When Harry Met Sally: Snappy Dialogue With Some Great Laughs "On the Side"

Feb 14, 2011
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Crystal, Ryan, Kirby, Fisher; humor; Ephron's dialogue; Reiner's direction

Cons:I'm warning you...some of these lines may stick with you for decades.

The Bottom Line: When Harry Met Sally...I think it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

It's Valentine's Day and love is in the air. I find myself getting nostalgic and thinking about an oldie but goodie...

Back in 1989, when Rob Reiner's When Harry Met Sally was first in theaters, I had only just met the man who would eventually (well, within three years) become my husband. Little did I know that nearing our 19th wedding anniversary, we'd still be laughing over this romantic-comedy starring Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal.

When Harry Met Sally is one of those rare comedy gems that provides ample opportunity for people who love to quote movie dialogue. There are only a handful of movies that I can quote multiple lines from, and this is one of them. Nora Ephron's best writing, in the hands of quick-talking Crystal and emotive Ryan (whose chemistry together is delightful) is funny and memorable. Anyone who loves the film will likely start laughing if you try out any of these lines: "I'll have what she's having." "You're right, you're right, I know you're right." "Oh, but baby fish-mouth is sweeping the nation." "I will NEVER want that wagon wheel coffee table." "But I would be proud to partake of your pecan pie." "And the next thing you know you're singing Surrey with a Fringe on top in front of IRA!" "You made a woman MEOW?"

There are more, but you get my drift. If you're laughing now, you've probably seen When Harry Met Sally many times. If you've never seen it, you're likely shrugging your shoulders and saying "huh?" And if that's the case, I'm here to try to persuade you why you should give this 22 year old romantic comedy classic a try.

As mentioned, Ryan and Crystal's chemistry is dynamite. It's a good thing, because it's really their film from start to finish (which is not to say the supporting cast isn't excellent). The story spans about a dozen years, from the time when Harry and Sally first meet (as college grads driving from Chicago to New York together) to their second meeting a handful of years later (when she's dating someone and he's engaged to be married) to their third meeting (when they've both just broken up with their earlier loves). This third meeting is serendipitous, not because they immediately fall for each other, but because they both so desperately need a friend. Considering just how different these two people are, and the way the sparks flew in their first two meetings, their friendship shouldn't feel inevitable, but somehow it does. And it turns into a sweet gift for them both.

The film finds all sorts of fun and creative ways to play with the idea that men and women often walk a fine line in relationships. When does friendship begin to move toward something approaching romantic love? And when and if it does, what happens next? Does it have to mean a death knell for the friendship or can friendship not only survive but thrive as two people recognize different kinds of feelings for one another? Sometimes you want to shake Harry and Sally for their stupidities and anxieties, as well as their missed signals, but it's still pure pleasure to watch them in their clumsy and sometimes painful dance of friendship and attraction. And you can't help but laugh as they learn to appreciate one another's quirks, including Harry's penchant for reading the last page of a novel first and Sally's obsessive compulsive way of ordering food at a restaurant with various things "on the side".

The "three acts" of the Harry/Sally meetings, with the third meeting blooming into the friendship that takes up the majority of the screen time, lends the film something of a play-like quality. Reiner and Ephron make it even more episodic by breaking in now and again with little "talking head" moments involving older married couples reminiscing about how they originally found each other. These documentary style clips (from the director who brought you Spinal Tap) manage to feel charming, not intrusive, and drive home the point that almost all relationships...perhaps especially the ones that last...had their funny and painful moments from the start. They also highlight all the wonderfully different ways in which men and women look at and remember love.

Ryan and Crystal are admirably supported by Bruno Kirby, who plays Harry's best friend Jess, and Carrie Fisher, who plays Sally's longtime friend Marie. At one point, Harry and Sally try to fix each other up with their best friends. Instead, they have to watch their best friends fall for each other, in one of the most hysterical sequences in the film.

The New York city landscape, often shot in autumn or at Christmastime, and a soundtrack with songs by crooner Harry Connick Jr. give this film a romantic, old-fashioned feel. There's a lot of fast talking and flirting: other Ephron penned films usually end up feeling like parodies or pale replicas of this one. If innuendo and hints of intimate situations make you uncomfortable, you may want to steer clear, though for the most part, the humor feels pretty wholesome. Still, it's a movie for grown-ups, especially grown-ups who have struggled through the delicate balances involved in the early stages of friendship moving toward romance.

And it's just plain funny. I've lost count of how many times I've seen it, but every time my husband and I watch it again, we laugh. And we remember the beginnings of our own friendship and romance. And we laugh again and quote each other a few more of our favorite lines from When Harry Met Sally.

~befus, 2011

I'll admit it: though I love Harry and Sally, their final kiss did not make my hopelessly old-fashioned and eccentric list of all-time favorite movie kisses. But don't you want to know what did?

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