When Harry Met Sally... [DVD]
Screenplay : Nora Ephron
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1989
Stars : Billy Crystal (Harry Burns), Meg Ryan (Sally Albright), Carrie Fisher (Marie), Bruno Kirby (Jess)
When Harry Met Sally... is a film about how people meet and fall in love. While many romantic films rely on the concept of love at first sight or the tradition of instant, unbridled passion that simply cannot be blocked by any obstacles, When Harry Met Sally... takes its time in exploring the long, sometimes bumpy, and often comical process by which two people might discover they are in love. I say might because one of the film's strongest themes is that everybody's romantic paths are different.
This is underscored by the use of short "interview" sequences scattered throughout the film in which elderly couples tell the quirky stories of how they came to be together. It's a wonderful, inspired narrative device that helps turn what could have been a simplistic contemporary romance into something much deeper. In essence, it fixes the story about Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) and Sally Albright (Meg Ryan) into a larger context: The stories are all unique, but the end product--spending the rest of your life with someone you love--has universal appeal.
Few films are as adept at conveying the essential differences between men and women better that When Harry Met Sally.... Although the screenplay is credited solely to Nora Ephron, it was, in effect, a collaborative effort between her, director Rob Reiner, producer Andrew Scheinman, and the two actors who play the leads. Much of Harry's character is based on Reiner's personality, while much of Sally is indebted to Ephron. Perhaps that is why Harry and Sally feel so real and sympathetic, despite their sometimes exaggerated quirks: They are not so much produced by fiction as they are borrowed from real life.
The narrative of When Harry Met Sally... spans 11 years. It begins in 1977 when Harry and Sally first meet on an 18-hour car trip from the University of Chicago, where they have both graduated, to New York City, where they plan to start their post-college lives. They clash immediately: The sunny and upbeat Sally does not understand Harry's dark, cynical view of life. They disagree on everything from what it means to have great sex to whether or not Ingrid Bergman's character really wanted to get on the plane at the end of Casablanca. But, most of all, they disagree on the film's central premise: Whether or not men and women can be friends and not let sex get in the way. Sally thinks they can; Harry thinks they can't.
Five years pass, and Harry and Sally run into each other again at the New York airport. Sally has recently become involved with successful businessman, and Harry is engaged to be married. They have each changed some, but not enough that they don't clash once again.
Another five years pass, and once again Harry and Sally's lives cross, except this time it is at a particularly crucial juncture. After a five-year relationship, Sally has broken up with her boyfriend. At the same time, Harry's marriage has recently crumbled and his wife has left him for another man. This time when Harry and Sally meet, they have changed to the point that they find they have things in common. And, as Humphry Bogart said at the end of Casablanca, "Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."
A beautiful friendship is exactly what it turns out to be. The middle passages of When Harry Met Sally... are perfectly pitched in depicting the growing relationship between the two characters. This section of the film is constructed of brief montages showing their lives in New York as they help each other carry home Christmas trees and run errands together combined with beautifully acted sequences in which they laugh and joke with each other, share their feelings and worries, and generally rely on each other for support and guidance.
Both Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan turn in excellent performances, especially during this part of the film. They are both relaxed and natural, and their conversational banter is natural and compelling. Rarely has a film made so much potentially banal dialogue ring so true. The whole film feels fresh and inspired, and there are scenes that are touching and gentle, and others that are absolutely hilarious (Sally's faked orgasm in the middle of a deli restaurant will probably always live in the annals of cinema's funniest moments). Director Rob Reiner, who was following two major sleeper hits in Stand By Me (1986) and The Princess Bride (1987), both of which displayed his adeptness at mixing comedy and drama, pitches each scene in the film just right. His camera is reserved and unobtrusive, and he knows how to let the actors carry the movie.
During the middle portion of the story, Harry and Sally's two best friends, Marie (Carrie Fisher) and Jess (Bruno Kirby), become romantically involved, which begins to put pressure on the relationship between Harry and Sally. If they're so perfectly matched, if they spend so much time together and enjoy each other's company so much, why aren't they together?
The last third of the film deals with the fall-out after Harry and Sally sleep together. The question posed by the film's tagline, "Can two friends sleep together and still love each other in the morning?," turns out to be a tough one to answer. Simply put, sex changes everything. The film has a powerful message about the role of sex, how it can be toyed with and essentially minimized, as Harry has done most of his life, or it can become the lynchpin that either helps to hold a relationship together or tear it apart. The scenes between Harry and Sally after they sleep together are awkward and difficult, and they ring absolutely true.
Like the elderly couples who tell their stories in the interludes, the path to true love for Harry and Sally is neither straight nor smooth. But, in the end, it makes for a great story.
|When Harry Met Sally...: Special Edition DVD|
|Audio||Dolby 2.0 Surround|
|Supplements|| Audio commentary by director Rob Reiner |
"How Harry Met Sally" 35-minute documentary
Seven deleted scenes
Original theatrical trailers for When Harry Met Sally..., The Princess Bride, and This is Spinal Tap
Harry Connick, Jr. music video, "It Had to Be You"
|The new anamorphic widescreen transfer is fabulous. It looks like the film was shot yesterday. Colors are rich and vibrant, especially the scenes in Central Park during autumn, where the leaves have turned brilliant shades of red, orange, and gold. Detail level is consistently high, and black levels are generally solid throughout. Flesh tones appear normal.|
|The only audio option is a Dolby two-channel mix that turns out to be more than adequate. As Rob Reiner describes the film, it is "wall-to-wall dialogue." The soundtrack is naturally front-heavy, but because so much of it is dialogue, you don't miss the use of the surround channels. In fact, a more "showy" soundtrack would have likely distracted from the dialogue by including unnecessary surround effects. The dialogue is the key, and it all sounds natural. There are a few scenes that involve some sound effects, such as the sequence that takes place in Giants Stadium during a football game. A wave keeps running through the crowd, and the soundtrack does an adequate job of moving the sounds of the cheering wave across the front soundstage.|
| What I was expected to be one of the highlights of this special edition DVD, Rob Reiner's audio commentary, turns out to be something of a disappointment. The commentary is surprisingly flat, with numerous long pauses. Considering that he was an actor before he was a director, and he is always energetic in interviews, I had expected Reiner to have more life in his commentary. While he does have interesting stories to tell about the production and offers insight into how the film reflects his own life, his commentary is still a bit difficult to sit through at times. |
Much better is the 35-minute making-of documentary, "How Harry Met Sally." Much of what Reiner talks about in the commentary is also covered here in new interviews with him, screenwriter Nora Ephron, composer Mark Shaiman, and actors Billy Crystal and Carrie Fisher (there are also a few bits from 1988 on-set interviews with Meg Ryan and Bruno Kirby). Filled mostly with these interviews and a bare minimum of scenes from the movie and behind-the-scenes footage, this documentary offers a great deal of background information on how the film came to be. It gives you a great appreciation for how it was a truly collaborative effort.
The disc also includes seven deleted scenes, most of which run about a minute or so in length and were originally segments in larger scenes that are still in the movie. You can see why most of these segments were cut, although the piece that shows Billy Crystal stuffing his mouth with grapes and imitating Marlon Brando's performance in The Godfather is truly hilarious.
The disc is rounded out by three theatrical trailers for Rob Reiner films: When Harry Met Sally..., The Princess Bride, and This is Spinal Tap. The first two are presented in full-frame, while the Spinal Tap trailer, which is one of the weirdest and funniest I've ever seen, is presented in anamorphic widescreen. Also included is a Harry Connick, Jr. music video for the film's theme song, "It Had to Be You."