For today’s next review of When Harry Met Sally, here’s a review by Steven of Past Present Future TV and Film
Some comedy films can remain funny and enjoyable like they did the first time around. Others, it’s sad to say, can’t because they’re just too old and dated. There’s also the comedy film that wasn’t funny to begin with and is still lacking in anything worth laughing about.
The Columbia Pictures film “When Harry Met Sally…”, seems to have kept its humor and heart all these years, that even when recognizable scenes come along, they’re still incredibly funny.
This romantic comedy stars Billy Crystal (upcoming TV series “The Comedians”, “Web Therapy”), Meg Ryan (“Web Therapy”, “Serious Moonlight”), Carrie Fisher (“Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce”, “Family Guy”), and Bruno Kirby (“Entourage”, “Helter Skelter (2004)”).
It was directed by Rob Reiner (“Rumor Has it…”, “Alex & Emma”) and written by Nora Ephron (“Julie & Julia”, “Bewitched”).
The film originally premiered in a limited run on July 12, 1989 and a wide release on July 21. It would go on to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen and 5 Golden Globe Awards.
I can’t tell you why I skipped it for so long, but I did. It’s funny because it’s not like this film was being kept from me and I do love a good romantic comedy. I guess I never had an urgent need to watch it. Nobody in my family owns it and it’s not like it’s available on Amazon Prime or Netflix, and with Blockbuster not exactly in business, it does make things somewhat harder. As luck would have it, it was playing on one of those movie channels that only manages to play the same five films over and over. How could I not watch this film?
This film, unlike so many that have come since, didn’t rely on slapstick or gross out humor. It’s probably more to blame for the things we constantly see now. It was a film that relied on its characters and the writing as a whole, to create a story that interested you, and made you laugh.
With the characters, and subsequently the actors, it was all about chemistry. Sure you want to like these people, but in this film especially, that came about because of the chemistry they brought. If you didn’t like Crystal or Ryan, or even Fisher or Kirby later on, then chances are you wouldn’t like the interactions and thus the comedy. The chemistry made them perfect! From the start of the film, they just worked well off of each other. Somehow, while you learn little things about the characters (Ryan’s veery specific ordering quirk), you also don’t learn all that much about them. It’s oddly okay as you’re somehow able to like them and want to follow them all the same.
One area where this need for chemistry to exist, and the comedy to work comes from the montage of time. It’s got a voiceover, but the main takeaway is with watching Ryan and Crystal, doing various activities together as friends. Each one just builds on top of the other and shows how the relationship grows. The success comes, for me, when I’m able to love and laugh at what they’re doing, and believe it, all the while not getting actual dialogue from these interactions. Then the film shifts to the conversation that’s been playing over these scenes, which itself ends up being funny and cute.
And, while I’m on the subject of the phone call, it was handled perfectly. There was a split screen. You’ve got Crystal on one side and Ryan on the other. I can’t recall the last time a film used a split screen for this long, and the end result didn’t tire me out. This is good news too, as there’s another use of a split screen, but this time a three-way split. You’ve got Crystal on one side, Ryan on the other, and in the middle there’s Fisher and Kirby in bed together as they’re a couple. Fisher’s talking to Ryan, and Kirby’s speaking with Crystal about the same event that happened. As with the majority of the film, it was a pretty hilarious scene. Another way the dialogue itself is not only delivered well, but written intelligently.
I’m not sure how to talk about the writing that Ephron did, as the first thing I saw that she helped write was “Sleepless in Seattle”, and I hated it. Here it’s completely different. The story is easy to follow and told in something of a vignette style. Then there’s the dialogue. It’s funny, quick, witty, and as said above, really makes the chemistry the actors bring so evident. After the four actors had dinner, and the set up pairs didn’t hit it off like planned, Kirby and Fisher both reveal they have more in common with each other. So, as they’re walking down the block Kirby’s Jess says, “Well, I don’t think I want to do any more walking. I’m going to get a cab.” Fisher’s Marie responds that she wants to go too and they both rush towards a hailed cab. It’s funny because just a little bit ago they said they wanted to be sensitive to both Ryan and Crystal’s current situation of being newly single.
Of course there are many other funny bits, that really only helps solidify why this is so funny and such a good film still, but I can’t detail every exact one. I will highlight two, one that is well known. The diner scene where Ryan shows Crystal how easy it is to fake an orgasm. I’ve seen only the scene, but never the beginning that leads into it and the ending that leads out of it. Having seen it in its entirety, I found it too be that much funnier. Hilarious even! Especially since after it, Ryan takes a bite of food and simply smiles. Context is everything.
Then there’s the museum bit. Crystal decides to start talking in a funny accented voice. He turns it into a charming bit, that also brings Ryan in too. So much so, that I read that when filming, and Crystal brings in pecan pie, Ryan wasn’t sure what to do, and looks to her right, towards Reiner, who encouraged her to go with it. She does, and the bit goes on and it keeps every element that makes it work with this film and the characters. It was also incredibly hilarious!
The faux interviews were annoying. They just began and didn’t make any sense. It felt like some interruption that only served to slow things down. Then, low and behold, they serve a purpose. Granted, before I realized that purpose, I knew they did have to have a purposed, but it wasn’t clicking. In the end I did actually enjoy the inclusion of these faux interviews, but that was because Crystal and Ryan gave an ending to their characters relationship and it was cute. You got what you wanted from the film in the end.
So many older films, try as they might, cannot keep the things that once made people love interesting or worthy of the praise they initially received. Comedy, to me, does not age well, especially when the jokes or style of humor is more suited for the time in which it was made. When you get a film that can manage to be relevant and just as enjoyable all these years later, you should cherish it. The likely-hood of another film achieving this is probably few and far between.