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When Harry Met Sally
1989 - R - 96 Mins.
Director: Rob Reiner
Producer: Rob Reiner
Written By: Nora Ephron
Starring: Billy Crystal, Meg Ryan, Carrie Fisher, Bruno Kirby, Steven Ford
Review by: John Ulmer
   
"When Harry Met Sally..." is one of those rare, one in a million motion pictures that becomes a cultural icon. It's been needlessly ripped off, and endlessly spoofed since its release in 1989. In fact, this year's "Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd" is even a pun on it. At least the title, anyway.

Many people will tell you the plot is weak, but the movie is good because of characters. Okay, well, I disagree. I think the plot, the characters and the script all work together to form an excellent romantic comedy. Whether it be the irony in the script, the characters' quirks or the smart, snappy, crisp dialogue thrown between Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan, "When Harry Met Sally" not only meets every expectation, but exceeds.

The film opens up with Harry Burns (Crystal) and Sally Albright (Ryan) driving to New York. Sally is best friends with Harry's girlfriend, Amanda. As they drive along, Harry and Sally start getting into a heated debate over "Casablanca." This discussion ends in discussing something a bit more risque: If men and women can sleep together and still be friends in the morning. Harry's standpoint is a no. Sally says yes. Harry explains that "no man can be friends with a woman that he finds attractive. He always wants to have sex with her." Sally replies, "So, you're saying that a man can be friends with a woman he finds unattractive?" Harry comes back with, "No. You pretty much want to nail 'em too."

That's the kind of dialogue you get a lot in this movie. If you want to compare Crystal's character to another fictional one, it would be George from "Seinfeld." George has all these intricate theories worked out about everything, from double-dipping to violating the "splash zone." (If you've seen the episode I'm talking about you'll get it.)

Harry Burns is the same way. Only his theories are all on sex, and/or the differences between men and women. You could call him pessimistic. He admits he has a dark side. Sally says, "I have as much of a dark side as the next person." Harry replies, "When I get a new book, I read the last page first so I know what happens in case I die. That, my friend, is a dark side." Funny, I do the same thing and I've never really thought about it.

Writer Nora Ephron based her screenplay on none other than the director of the film - Rob Reiner - and his love life. She sat down with him and another person once, and listened intently to his stories. According to her, she then coughed up a screenplay, handed it to Rob, and they made the film.

Rob Reiner is one of the most talented and dependable directors in Hollywood. He adds a certain innocence, a certain charm, and a certain chemistry to his films that is hard to miss. His last great (or very good) film was "The American President," but everyone finds themself in a ditch after a while, and I think as far as directors go, Reiner was one of the most consistently dependable directors during the eighties and nineties. Check this out: "This is Spinal Tap," "The Princess Bride," "When Harry Met Sally," "Misery," "Sleepless in Seattle," "The American President": All very good - some great - motion pictures that have become as famous as I don't know what.

Coming to the cast, Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan are an absolute comic and romantic pairing. Every line is real. Every inch of attraction doesn't seem artificial. I swear that the first fifteen minutes of this film has some of the most interesting, engaging and downright smart dialogue I have ever seen in a film. Crystal and Ryan - especially Crystal - really break down everything and kind of make rules out of everything. Like Harry's amendment in the beginning, or how they dissect everything later on in the film and analyze it. I like when characters in films are quirky and have theories on everything. To me, people that have theories on life might as well hold the meaning of life in their hands, because to them, they are.

"When Harry Met Sally" is a keen observation on modern life, romance, men, women, friendship, and sex. And if you want something a bit tamer and more for the general audience, I recommend "Sleepless in Seattle," which has just as much chemistry and observation going on as "When Harry Met Sally" does.

In a time of cheap teen romance films, artificial dialogue and downright uninteresting stories, rarely does a romantic comedy like this come along, and it's an honor to watch something as observational, true, sweet, engaging, humorous, and lovely as "When Harry Met Sally."
 
Movie Guru Rating
An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant.
  4.5 out of 5 stars

 
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