Look what’s back in UK cinemas today…
The BFI are currently presenting a season of films celebrating love, the programme including Brief Encounter, Doctor Zhivago, True Romance, and the breezy 80s comedy When Harry Met Sally….
More accurately actually, Sally meets Harry, sharing a drive from Chicago to New York City. Harry is annoying but, in a way, charmingly so; nevertheless, he and Sally fail to connect, and when he advances the idea that men and women simply can’t be friends because of “the sex thing”, the two part ways as strangers. Five years later they chance to share a flight and we learn, much to our surprise, that formerly womanising, commitment-hating Harry is now engaged. Both characters have softened and are more likeable, but Harry is still obnoxious and Sally still bristles. In another five years they meet again, Harry now going through a divorce, and finally the two become friends. But “the sex thing” is still there, and we as viewers are aware of it constantly. Will Harry and Sally beat the odds, and remain just friends? No, we know they won’t, but it doesn’t matter; as is literally the case in the film’s first setpiece, the destination is unimportant, it’s the getting there that counts.
Driving us we have a supremely witty script by rom-com queen Nora Ephron, which is made the best of by director and uncredited co-writer Rob Reiner and leads Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan. Crystal’s in his element with the fast-paced and intelligent dialogue but it’s Ryan who’s the film’s secret weapon, playing relatively straight and selling Crystal’s performance with her perfectly-judged reactions. She’s a real person with an interior life, rather than a comedic means to an end. The same is true of Crystal’s Harry, but less so; he’s certainly larger-than-life to a larger extent than she. He also seems implausibly unattractive next to Ryan, but beautiful women do go for unattractive men based on their wit alone, as we learn from Diane Keaton and Woody Allen, offscreen and on, in Annie Hall. Many lessons here seem to have been learned from that movie, though this is a certainly a more mainstream product. The use of split-screen for telephone conversations, and the inserts of elderly couples discussing how they met, give a touch of Allen’s formal experiment, but it is only a touch; for the most part it’s nothing more and nothing less than a classic piece of Hollywood workmanship, like Romancing the Stone or Witness. It’s just a blast, just a really smart film that’s not afraid to be bitter at times, but equally unafraid to be touching; that’s eager to please, and is constantly pleasing; and it’s really just a joy to see.
When Harry Met Sally returns to UK cinemas today (11th December)! Will you be seeing it? Let us know in the comment box below!