Saturday, 11 April 2009

DVD Review - When Harry Met Sally

When Harry Met Sally is one of the best romantic comedies ever made – and I can prove it. Not only did it make no. 6 in my own list, but it was on more than half of all of the ones I’ve read (and I’ve read almost all of the top ten romantic movies lists on Epinions) – often at number one. But just what makes it so good?

Apart from containing defining performances by both Billy Crystal (Harry) and Meg Ryan (Sally), excellent supporting roles for Carrie Fisher and Bruno Kirby, assured direction, superb dialogue, the fake orgasm scene that will forever be part of cinema history, a great soundtrack (thankfully not all by Harry Connick, Jr – my favourite jazz singer of all time, Louis Armstrong, gets in a couple of songs early in the movie), good cinematography, an good balance of hilarious and sensitive moments, good pacing, and… erm… okay, exactly what else do you want from a romantic comedy? (Some people are sooooooo demanding!)

The film stars out with a young Harry being given a lift to New York by Sally, and an ensuring conversation on the hours-long journey about whether men and women could ever be just friends. Harry concludes in his uniquely patronising way that it is impossible because the man will always want sex with an attractive woman. Sally is unimpressed with this theory, and they part company convinced that they’ll never see each other again.

5 Years Later…

Well, I’m not going to tell you any more about the plot, partly because you’ve probably seen it anyway, partly as you can probably guess what happens eventually (though not necessarily along the way), and partly because… erm… just because.

The story is interspersed with clips of old couples telling the story of how they met etc, and some of these are hilarious. The story doesn’t go quite as you’d expect, which is a good thing – it strays from the formulaic, while somehow creating a large prt of the formula in the process. (I know what I mean even if you don’t…) The acting is top notch – probably the best performances of both Crystal’s and Ryan’s careers – and, as with all of the best romantic comedies, the film takes you from hilarity to tragedy and back again seamlessly, barely giving you time to pause for breath before dragging you back again.

Though it only made number 6 in my Top Ten Romantic Comedies list, in some ways it is the definitive romantic comedy – every element that makes a good one is here in abundance. But I do feel that it’s a film that is very much viewed through the eyes of your personal experience, so everyone will get a rather different view of it. Sure it’s funny in its own right, but I can relate to it so much more since my wife and I went through the process outlined in the film - of being friends that became lovers. I never saw the film before I got married (amazingly!), but my wife did – and while she liked it the first time, she absolutely loves it now. My friend (whose romantic attachments past, present, or future are a mystery to me) didn’t like it the first time she watched it, but did the second – perhaps partly because she knew us? Who can say? But if you’ve never been in a relationship like that of Harry and Sally, you won’t take as much from this film as if you have. I think you’ll still enjoy it, but some of the subtler moments will pass you by.


Harry – Billy Crystal – 10/10 – I had been only moderately impressed with his performance in “Analyse This” (which I saw before WHMS), Billy was born to play this part. His fast-talking wise-cracking style is very funny while he portrays the more serious and emotional side of Harry exceptionally well (and thankfully without falling into the trap of chronic over-sentimentalising that Jim Carey is so guilty of…)

Sally – Meg Ryan – 10/10 – I like Meg anyway, but while her performance in French Kiss was often funny as much for being corny (“Oh, maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan!!!!”) as being good, in these she is just perfect. Her portrayal of Sally’s development from a teenager to a woman is spot on, and her timing and style complements Crystal well. It’s also nice to see a romantic comedy where the leading lady’s personality is not irritating more than anything else. (i.e. as in every teenage romance ever made!)

Marie – Carrie Fisher – 8/10 – Fisher’s role doesn’t allow her to use her extraordinary talent to the full, but she plays her part very well as Sally’s friend who has a thing about married men.

Jess – Bruno Kirby – 9/10 – “You made a woman meow?!?” – Kirby is Crystal’s friend who sticks with him through thick and thin, and is at first in awe of Harry’s prowess with women, and later a helpless bystander as his friend is busy ruining his life by not accepting the obvious.


Director – Rob Reiner – 9/10 – does a fantastic job here, the pacing is absolutely perfect for almost all of the movie. There’s not a lot he could have done better. (Also Co-Producer with Andrew Scheinman.)

Screenplay – Nora Ephron – 10/10 – the dialogue is superb and the story is good, creating clichés for later films but not copying many existing ones. What action there is complements the rest of the film.

Cinematographer – Barry Sonnernfield – 8/10 – there’s nothing at all wrong with the cinematography, but nothing really exceptional about it either. Would have probably been more noticeable if the film wasn’t so good, but it would have been very noticeable if it had actually been bad in a film this good. (Now there’s a tongue-twister for you!).

DVD Features

On the DVD version you also get:

- The original theatrical trailer (quite interesting to see it again after all these years!)
- The “Making Of” documentary (Not bad, as good as most of this sort of thing.)
- Audio commentary by Rob Reiner (No comment – I can’t stand audio commentaries generally…)
- Harry Connick music video – “It Had To Be You” (great song, have heard it sung better, can’t stand the site of him so the video is not exactly a “bonus” to me!)
- Deleted scenes (some were really funny, the rest were terrible…)

Please bear in mind that I’m biased – in my view, the so-called “Bonus!” material on DVD’s is simply an unreasonable excuse for charging us more than the video costs. QED.

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