“I have decided that, for the rest of the day, we are going to talk like this” Billy Crystal says in a incomprehensible accent to Meg Ryan, about halfway through When Harry Met Sally. As he ad-libs, Meg Ryan laughs and looks to her right at director Rob Reiner. Out of frame, he silently prompts her to continue. The take remains in the film, and the genuineness of Harry and Sally’s interactions, their natural chemistry, only grows and grows.
When Harry Met Sally turns thirty this year, and in my opinion, no rom-com since has come close to this beautiful, heart-rending, brilliant film. Tongue-in-cheek and unabashedly romantic, the film asks the pretty outdated question: can a man and a woman be friends? More than this, though, the film is an examination of compatibility and chemistry, of knowing someone you love inside-out; it plays on every heartstring-tugging rom-com trope, and throws in some excellent fashion choices to boot.
Nora Ephron’s script is like the restorative hug of a friend, a bowl of nourishing soup on a cold day. Brimming with warmth, wit, zingy one-liners and fast-paced ramblings, the film is also peppered with vignettes of fictitious older couples and their romantic tales of everlasting love. I still maintain that her rendering of the dorky, neurotic, sweet Sally is one of the most endearing, likable and real protagonists of any rom-com.
Watching When Harry Met Sally has cemented for me that true romance is Billy Crystal running through the streets of New York on New Years Eve whilst Frank Sinatra warbles “It Had To Be You” in the background. And, although Meg Ryan is officially an expert at having ‘Important Romantic Realisations’ while Auld Lang Syne is playing (the Sleepless in Seattle version being slightly poorer-executed), the film’s potential triteness doesn’t even matter because it’s so goddamn romantic. There are so many brilliant things about this film. The fact that there were thousands of better looking actors than Billy Crystal but he was chosen for being a a complete, unadulterated comedic genius; Jesse screeching “BABY FISH MOUTH!”; the split-screen homages to cinema past; Meg Ryan’s crisis-aerobics; the fact that the famous “I’ll have what she’s having” line was spoken by Rob Reiner’s mother; Marie’s little portable catalogue of single and married men, dog-eared and well-thumbed.
Hairstyles and endlessly quotable lines aplenty, When Harry Met Sally is the perfect pick-me-up pleasure.
Words by Steph Green