Both Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan will always be remembered for their individual strings of popular movies in the late 1980s and through the 1990s. While neither has held onto their box office popularity past that point, no one can deny what a great run they had. And during that time arguably their best film was a picture they did together, the 1989 romantic comedy “When Harry Met Sally…”.
I’ve watched this film several times but not since my VHS copy became extinct. Now I’ve revisited the movie and what a treat to learn that it still holds up after almost 15 years. It still features that same sharp wit. It still has those laugh-out-loud moments. It still has the perfect amount of romance. But most importantly, it still features two main characters that we connect with and genuinely care about.
It’s the story of Harry Burns (Crystal) and Sally Albright (Ryan) and the unique winding road their relationship travels. They first meet in 1977, both fresh out of school at the University of Chicago. Harry is dating a friend of Sally’s who encourages the two to share a drive back to New York City. During the drive the two share a number of conversations particularly their drastically different philosophies on relationships. After some hearty disagreements, they finally arrive in New York City and gladly go their separate ways.
The film then jumps ahead 5 years to when Harry and Sally bump into each other at the airport. Both are at different stages in their lives and their attitudes about relationships have slightly evolved. Later we jump ahead another 5 years to another chance meeting. Again their situations have changed and the evolution of their relationship philosophies is obvious. Harry is still witty and neurotic but he isn’t as cocky and sure of himself as he is when we first meet him. Sally starts off as peppy and exuberant but later we find her more credulous and naive. This is the heart of the film – watching these two people with seemingly warped views of relationships transform under the weight of reality. And all while the one true path to happiness may be right under their noses.
For me there are many reasons this film works so well. First is Nora Ephron’s Oscar nominated screenplay. It’s smart, razor sharp, and unflinching in its grounded portrayal of its characters. Much of that is thanks to contributions made by Crystal and Ryan but overall this is Ephron’s baby and she nails it. Credit also goes to director Rob Reiner. This was during a period when Reiner was making better films and much of it was taken from his life as a divorced single man. It’s solid filmmaking, something that can’t be said about many of his more recent movies.
And then there are the performances from Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan. It would have all fallen apart if the characters weren’t so easy to connect with. Crystal and Ryan draw us in the first moments we meet them. There is also a wonderful and charming chemistry between the two. You can’t help but get caught up in Crystal’s dry humor and Ryan’s infectious smile. They are so believable and you never doubt the authenticity of these two people. They are perfectly cast.
At times “When Harry Met Sally…” seems to draw out its one big question (will Harry and Sally ever get together?) longer than necessary and some people may get bogged down in the numerous back-and-forths between the different characters. But for me after all these years it’s still a fine romantic comedy that knows how to handle its characters and their situations. It’s a story of two lost souls who put their faith in their own wrong views of love while a much easier answer may be right before them. That’s a story I can get into.