When Harry Met Sally
(United States, 1989)
When Harry Met Sally was the best romantic comedy of the '80s and arguably one of the best "pure" romantic comedies of all time. This is the movie that changed my opinion of the genre from one of near disdain (male knee-jerk reaction) to genuine enthusiasm (more enlightened). Most romantic comedies (including this one, to a degree) are formula-driven, and, if not well-made, they tend to be too sweet, too silly, or a combination of the two. When Harry Met Sally shows the potential of the romantic comedy when all of the elements are in synch. It's smart, funny, and thoroughly entertaining from quirky start to happy ending. Romantics fall for the love story, cynics appreciate Billy Crystal's acerbic wit, and pragmatists enjoy the film's insightful approach to platonic male/female relationships. Every member of the cast - not just the leads, but the supporting performers as well - is perfectly chosen, and this represents one of the peaks on director Rob Reiner's uneven resume. When Harry Met Sally became the first romantic comedy I saw more than once during its theatrical run, and, since then, I have had the opportunity to watch it many times on video. It stands up well to repeated viewings and doesn't seem the least bit dated.
Plot Summary (Spoilers Possible):
When Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) and Sally Albright (Meg Ryan) first meet, it's 1977. Both are leaving the University of Chicago for New York City (him to become a political consultant, her to become a journalist), and they share the drive. Along the way, they discover that they have little in common. At one point, Harry makes a pass at Sally, but she demurs, saying that they'll have to settle for being friends. They part in Manhattan, and it's five years before they bump into each other again, this time in an airport. By then, Harry is engaged to be married and Sally is in the midst of a serious relationship. They spend some time together on a plane, then separate amicably when they reach their destination. Their next encounter occurs in the late-'80s. They are both newly single (Harry's wife has recently left him and Sally has broken off a long-term, dead-end affair), and this mutual bond of loss draws them into a close friendship. When events push their relationship over the sexual line, things don't go smoothly.
The thing that When Harry Met Sally does best is to keep the focus firmly on the relationship between the two title characters, never wandering off on unwelcome tangents. There are subplots, to be sure, but even those are crucial to the evolution of Harry and Sally's friendship. And the film is not hamstrung by a litany of familiar romantic comedy clichés. When Harry Met Sally offers an often humorous, occasionally poignant view of men, women, sex, love, and friendship. For those who appreciate romantic comedies for both aspects of the genre (the "romance" and the "comedy"), When Harry Met Sally is a treat. Years after first reaching American screens, When Harry Met Sally still holds up remarkably well. That really shouldn't be a surprise, however, since a good romance is timeless.
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