VOD film review: When Harry Met Sally
Ivan Radford | On 21, Oct 2017
Director: Rob Reiner
Cast: Billy Crystal, Meg Ryan, Carrie Fisher, Bruno Kirby
Can a man and woman ever be just friends? That’s the age-old question posed by When Harry Met Sally 28 years ago. In the decades since its release, it has become the definitive romantic comedy, the kind of witty, moving film that other romantic comedies dream of being. That’s partly because of how funny it is, but it’s also because of how honest it is.
Penned by the luminously talented Nora Ephron, the sparky script came from a place of truth: her and director Rob Reiner’s own experiences. Extensively interviewing the helmer, who had recently divorced Penny Marshall, they discussed the different ways that men and women view sex and relationships – the kind of debate that became the crux of the film’s dialogue between the titular Harry and Sally.
They, of course, are played by Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan, in a perfect piece of casting. Crystal, who regularly improvised, even during his climactic declaration of love near the film’s end, is at the peak of his comic timing, firing out one-liners with a sarcastic wit. Ryan, meanwhile, is every bit his match, while managing to conjure up even more sympathy for her picky-side-dish-ordering singleton. One of the most charming aspects of the film is the way it gives both leads equal screen-time, never siding with one party over the other.
Indeed, we spend most of the film with the duo as plutonic mates, one set up with Jess (Bruno Kirby), Harry’s friend, and Marie (Carrie Fisher), Sally’s friend. And it’s here that the movie really finds the key to its success: Bruno Kirby is brilliantly downbeat (“You made a woman meow?”), just enough to offset Crystal and Ryan’s infectious presence, while Fisher’s underrated role is, in some ways, one of her defining performances: stealing scenes in Hannah and Her Sisters and kicking Empire butt in Star Wars, Fisher is in her acerbic element, really allowed to unleash her sense of humour, while imparting wisdom like the supportive best friend she always seemed to be in her candid interviews and writing. She was an uncredited script doctor on tons of Hollywood productions, ranking alongside Aaron Sorkin and Tom Stoppard, and she’s just as generous as a performer, enabling Harry and Sally’s central romance to take place – and do so convincingly.
“The right man for you might be out there right now and if you don’t grab him, someone else will,” Marie tells Sally at one point. “And you’ll have to spend the rest of your life knowing that someone else is married to your husband.”
In a cute flourish, Reiner intercuts the movie with vox pops of elderly people recounting their relationships. The actors are recreating stories Reiner got by interviewing actual couples, but When Harry Met Sally doesn’t need any help in the realism stakes: its sincerity is already established by that central quartet. Fisher and Kirby make Harry and Sally’s friends so believable, from their split-screen phone calls to their own chemistry, that the film clicks beautifully into place: it’s an honesty that still rings true today, backing up every beat of laughter with one skipped by your heart. Can a man and woman ever be just friends? Of course they can, but it’s a question we like to keep asking, if only so we still have an excuse to keep watching When Harry Met Sally. 28 years later and we can never have enough of what she’s having.