Tuesday, July 3, 2007

When Harry Met Sally (1989)

Directed by Rob Reiner
Starring Billy Crystal, Meg Ryan

I remember watching this film in high school at a friend's house one night. There were a bunch of us over and we couldn't decide what to watch. The girls eventually won the battle and tossed in When Harry Met Sally. Trouble was, they decided to fast forward through all the "couple on the couch" scenes, so until today I've never really watched this movie in its entirety.

"Men and women can't be friends, the sex thing always gets in the way." That about sums up the movie. Tracking the lives and romances and on-again-off-again friendship of Harry (Billy Crystal) and Sally (Meg Ryan) from college graduation to their early 30s. There's the famous "fake orgasm in the diner" scene with Rob Reiner's mom playing the woman who orders "what she's having" at the end. But oddly, that wasn't the laugh for me. I got a good chuckle watching Meg Ryan switch instantly from "Passion" to deadpan, the quick change was comedy timing gold in my opinion.

The "couple on the couch" scenes I mentioned earlier are scattered throughout and seem to be interludes separating long chunks of time in the lives of the main characters. The couples are cute and their stories somewhat interesting, but ultimately forgettable. They're sharing an intimate moment of their lives - how they met - and though you feel their love, you really either go maudlin remembering how you met your sweetie or depressed that you don't have a story like theirs to tell.

Having gone down the "friends before lovers" road with my wife, we have our own stories to tell, though some are a bit complicated if you delve into the details. Better to glaze the surface and find that happy romantic nostalgia that this movie aims to bring out in its viewers.

Lots of witty banter and monologues make the movie fun and heart wrenching throughout, but ultimately you get that feel good moment at the end, even if it's somewhat ruined by the penultimate "couple on the couch" scene that you knew was coming all along.

That witty dialogue I was talking about? Some of it is really good and you have to wonder if they were delivering lines or ad-libbing some of what the scene called for. There are a few scenes when you really see some great acting from Meg Ryan. Billy Crystal only falls into his usual shtick a few times, notably in a museum when he starts up one of his accents and at a Sharper Image when he starts up a karaoke machine with "Surrey With A Fringe On Top" from Oklahoma.

The only thing I'd call an effect is the awful hairpiece they gave to Crystal for his college scenes. Looked like a cat crawled on his head and died.

The only romantic comedy I can remember with Special Effects was Sleepless in Seattle and that was pretty bad. You're supposed to "Aww..." not "Ooh!" at these movies for a reason.

Lots of old Louis Armstrong songs and songs from that vein depicting either couples in love or at odds but still in love (Tomato/Tomahto). Fitting to the story of course. Personally, I love these songs and they were all over this genre a while back. Makes me wonder if 40 years from now I'll be watching a romantic comedy with my wife and hearing "Do me baby, one more time" as the background music. Nah...

Atmosphere and Immersive Details
This movie used the story to move you along and there's really not much care for small details or even the large ones. During an early scene when Harry & Sally are driving down Lake Shore Drive in Chicago, they're approaching the city from the north and the Hancock Tower is looming in front of them. On this point of that road as you are driving south, there are apartments to the right of you and Lake Michigan to your left. But as the camera changes to view the actors through the windshield, there are buildings where the lake should be. In another scene early on, the two are in a diner (not THE diner) and the diner is full of patrons, but when they leave and go back to their car in the parking lot, the lot is practically empty.

All said, this is a classic flick, though not one that I'd be wanting to bring out over and over. For this reason, I've given it 3 Stars (Liked It). There's just enough romance and just enough comedy between the moments when they're at eachother's throats and moments when they're depressed to make watching this movie enjoyable, but not with enough warm fuzzies to want to watch it again any time soon. Maybe I'll trot this out again in 40 years on Interactive 3-D YouTube Blu-ray and splice in my wife and I on the couch for good measure.

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