Before taking on my last Cinapse Selects post for 2016, I polled Twitter on whether I should write about Sleepless in Seattle (usually on my annual Christmas rotation) or When Harry Met Sally… and the Rob Reiner film won.
Which Meg Ryan/Ephron-related/holiday time-ish film should I write about later this month?
— elizabeth stoddard (@elizs) December 11, 2016
Whether or not you’ve seen When Harry Met Sally…, you’ve at least heard of it. Directed by Reiner (The Princess Bride) off of a script by Nora Ephron, the film makes a bizarre pairing of Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal. I’ve seen the film numerous times, tending to be wary of Harry’s personality through most of the it… until his New Year’s Eve monologue wins me over at the end. The more I see the movie, the more I notice how often Crystal’s Harry is talking at Ryan’s Sally, not really to her. This isn’t the case in all their scenes together, but certainly in more than a couple of them.
Barry Sonnenfeld — who’d go on to shoot Miller’s Crossing and direct the fantastical pilot of Pushing Daisies (among many other works) — served as D.P. for Reiner’s film. Conversations between Harry, Sally and other friends occur around New York. A barely memorable discussion of dreams happens on a walk in Central Park, as the two are immersed in glorious shots of fall color. The duo discusses dating in front of a bank of large windows and a vista of the city. Sally and Harry are too focused on their quotidian worries to pay much attention to the beauty of their surroundings.
This is fine with the viewer because the writing for When Harry Met Sally… is everything. Of course there’s the famously ad-libbed “I’ll have what she’s having,” but there’s so much more here to love. Little (besides relationship status changes) really happens to these characters as years pass, except for the great, silly talks they share on scattered topics like Casablanca, marriage, fatalism, and days-of-the-week underpants. From the start, Sally’s optimism is practically a foil for Harry’s pessimistic nature. The more time spent together, the more they rub off on each other.
Many other details of production — the casting of Carrie Fisher and Bruno Kirby as Sally and Harry’s friends who end up falling for each other, the ’80s costuming (and hair!), the set design, the “interviews” with couples telling their love stories that pepper the film — help make When Harry Met Sally… a classic romantic comedy. Some elements have aged better than others, but there’s a reason this film is a favorite of many, and one I revisit often.