Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Movie Review: When Harry Met Sally...(1989)


A delightful romantic comedy, When Harry Met Sally... established the new standard for the genre. Warm-hearted, funny and quirky, the film's two main star-crossed protagonists grow ever more likeable as they tentatively take their multi-year journey towards a cupid-defined destiny.

It's 1977. New graduates Harry (Billy Crystal) and Sally (Meg Ryan) share an 18 hour drive from the University of Chicago to New York, where they are both starting their careers, Harry as a lawyer and Sally in journalism. Prior to the drive they don't know each other, but during the journey they become sure that they don't like each other: Harry is an arrogant, fast-talking pessimist who is sure that he has the world already figured out. Sally is detail-oriented and a bit uppity. They argue about everything, including whether a man and woman can be just friends. Harry does not believe it to be possible: the sex part always gets in the way. Sally convinces herself that Harry is a creep because he seems to be coming onto her despite already having a girlfriend. They arrive in New York and coldly part ways.

Five years later, they accidentally meet again during a flight. Harry is mellowing a bit, now engaged to Helen, but still a motor-mouth with all the answers. Sally is in the throes of a deepening relationship with Joe, and optimistically love-struck. Although more civilized, they again part ways as soon as the flight lands.

Five years further on, they meet again at a New York bookstore. Both relationships have ruptured badly. Harry is heartbroken by the breakup of his marriage to Helen, while Sally is trying to hold herself together despite Joe leaving her because he did not want to start a family and she did. Gradually, Harry and Sally become best friends, sharing all the details, joys, and sorrows of their lives, supporting each other and developing a deep bond of dependence and affection while continuing to date other people. Sally's best friend Marie (Carrie Fisher) and Harry's best friend Jess (Bruno Kirby) also end up in a relationship together.

Sally is devastated when she hears that Joe is getting married and starting a family with a younger woman. When Harry comes to her apartment to comfort her, they end up making love, shattering the basis of their friendship. Harry and Sally have to decide whether or not to pick up the pieces and turn the wreckage of a friendship into the green roots of a romance.

The success of When Harry Met Sally... is based on a Nora Ephron script that works diligently to create two fully-rounded characters. The mannerisms, reactions, and emotions of Harry and Sally are established early on when they are brash graduates, and gradually evolve, soften and mature as life gently but surely scrubs away the edges. Director Rob Reiner guides the romance with a gentle hand, delicately adding New York City garnishings to create a perfect but understated feast.

Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan were both catapulted into deserved stardom for their performances. Crystal had earlier made an impression in The Princess Bride and Throw Momma From The Train (both also directed by Reiner), but his performance as Harry elevated him into a leading star as a sensitive comic talent. Harry's journey is the more pronounced, including a detour into a long friendship that threatens to disprove his theory about friendships between men and women, but he then has to endure a lot of pain and no pleasure when the inevitable intervention of "the sex part" indeed proves his initial belief to be true.

Meg Ryan was designated as America's sweetheart and leading romantic lady after her performance as Sally. Defiant yet vulnerable, argumentative yet appealing, and attractive yet down to earth, Sally is most memorable for being so real: she captures, with just a dash of comic exaggeration, deeply human traits found in most women. And her impressive fake public orgasm in a New York deli immediately entered the hall of fame of classic movie scenes.

The central theme of the film is the nature of friendship between men and women, and the movie's warmest moments portray Harry and Sally as friends. There is a magical emotional depth to the scenes portraying the couple becoming platonic soul mates, and the film provides a complex answer to its core conundrum: yes, a strong bond of friendship may be formed between a man and a woman, but perhaps such a deep connection is really a pilot light for a flame waiting to be lit.

It takes them a long time, but not only do Harry and Sally finally realize that they are meant for each other, they also join the distinguished ranks of most memorable movie characters.






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