Published on May 9th, 2013 | by Clint Davis
When Harry Met Sally… 
Summary: Among the finest romantic comedies ever made thanks to a smart script, unique style, and great performances. The questions it raises could make for uncomfortable viewing with the opposite sex.
R | 96 min.
Director: Rob Reiner | Screenplay: Nora Ephron
Starring: Billy Crystal, Meg Ryan, Carrie Fisher, Bruno Kirby
Studio: Castle Rock Entertainment, Nelson Entertainment | Distribution: Columbia Pictures
**Reader request from my lovely wife Beth (brownie points!)**
Can men and women really be just friends? It’s a question that’s sparked countless dinner table debates and been the theme of many movies–none better than 1989’s When Harry Met Sally.
There are many reasons director Rob Reiner’s classic rom-com is considered among the genre’s all-time greats. Two perfect performances, a memorable supporting cast, some non-traditional storytelling techniques, a tight script, and the mother of all restaurant scenes–just to name a few. This is simply one of those films that you can’t help but be gripped by the first time you see it, and at just over 90 minutes, it flies. Over the course of the movie, the plot covers more than ten years in the lives of its two title characters.
We begin in 1977, as recent college graduates Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) and Sally Albright (Meg Ryan) meet for the first time during an awkward drive from Chicago to New York City, where they’re both moving. Five years later, the pair run into one another at an airport as they happen to be taking the same flight. Relationships, friendships, and even a marriage come and go, but Harry and Sally meet again and eventually realize they are each other’s closest friends. From here, the audience is left to wonder can (and should) they attempt to be more than that?
When Harry Met Sally seems to go out of its way to defy romantic comedy genre staples, making for a refreshing angle on some tired topics. Reiner uses his background in mockumentary (This is Spinal Tap), coming of age (Stand By Me), and exploration of sexual chemistry (The Sure Thing) to tell this universal story in a way that any viewer can enjoy. This movie could make for very awkward viewing on a first date or with a platonic friend you’re attracted to–because everyone will side with either Harry or Sally.
Billy Crystal will always be remembered for this iconic performance, but honestly his portrayal of Harry is what keeps this from being a perfect film in my mind. He plays the part in such an arrogant, know-it-all manner that it can make the character very off-putting. To put it simply, Harry is a dick. Meanwhile, Meg Ryan is so damn cute and apple pie as Sally that you can’t help but be into her. Nora Ephron’s screenplay puts Sally on a pedestal though, as her flaws are extremely minor compared with her male counterpart. Female audience members may feel like their own issues are marginalized by this treatment, while males will likely feel gypped that their representation is so unlikable for the first half of the movie.
So often, romantic comedies are generic pieces of studio fluff that bank on fake chemistry between attractive megastar leads–there is often no heart in films that are designed to get right to the audience’s emotions. When Harry Met Sally is a well-made and thoughtful film that respects its characters and especially its audience. The film doesn’t go for cheap emotion, such as when Harry tells his friend Jess (Bruno Kirby) he is getting a divorce after discovering his wife was cheating on him. Reiner plays the scene out in a crowded football stadium as Harry and Jess robotically take part in ‘the wave’ while having this important conversation. Rather than set them in a quiet, dimly-lit bar for our first look at Harry’s vulnerable side, the action takes place in a loud and hectic sporting venue. When Harry Met Sally can come off a bit clinical at times when dealing with matters of the heart, but that’s one thing that keeps the movie interesting and unique.
This film should be marked ‘required viewing’ because it will create conversation among all parties at a post-viewing dinner. We all understand the confusion that comes with romance, especially the complications that arise after sex is introduced into the mix–and these issues are what lie at When Harry Met Sally‘s core. Like Woody Allen’s Annie Hall did 12-years earlier, this film gives us a fresh version of the onscreen relationship, while also giving us something to think about regarding our own love life.