It was the 80s, the time when acid washed jeans went, the Ephrons could turn out a decent script, Rob Reiner could direct something worth watching, and Billy Crystal hadn't succumbed to the sequel curse. And Meg Ryan? Well, Meg Ryan's still pretty much Meg Ryan: sickeningly Top 40, an actress who seemingly lives in fear of picking a role that could be too controversial (never mind her recent marital scuffle).
When Harry Met Sally... closed out a decade fondly remembered by Grosse Pointe Blank and Romy and Michele's High School Reunion and darkly satirized by Bret Easton Ellis' American Psycho. It's a romantic comedy that has spawned a plethora of knockoffs so terrifying that, like its counterparts in all other genres, it may have been better if the script were never penned, if only to save us from the aftermath. But still, we have to give When Harry Met Sally... credit for what it did: Make one of the few romance films that bears any kind of truth without also being a dark comedy.
Two people who want absolutely nothing to do with each other in the beginning of the story, Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) and Sally Albright (Meg Ryan) end up driving together to move into separate apartments in New York City after they both graduate from college. By the time they reach the Big Apple, they're talking about their disbelief that friendship and sex can coexist, and as we all know from experience (and now cliché) they eventually hook up -- it's unavoidable.
Rather than make the mistake that countless copycats have by making their tryst a quick cut away from a sex scene to appease the MPAA, When Harry Met Sally... takes its time to the inevitable end. And I mean takes its time: For 10 years Harry's and Sally's paths weave back and forth like Robert Downey Jr. trying to walk the white line. At years-long intervals they befriend each other, drift apart, befriend each other again, and, at long last, find themselves testing their own theory (to the inevitable happy ending).
As for why When Harry Met Sally... still contains cinematic merit a dozen years after its initial release, it actually has all of the strengths that make a movie last. Nora Ephron's dialogue is sharp, witty, and intelligent, Billy Crystal shows us a movie in which he (mostly) acts instead of does a stand up routine with other actors present, Rob Reiner directs a simple story instead of trying to preach on God-knows-what-tangent, and even run-of-the-mill Meg Ryan takes a huge risk with her squeaky clean image by faking an orgasm in a deli (a now-legendary scene worth the rental alone). And don't forget Harry Connick Jr.'s stellar soundtrack.
While to this day it is a mark of masculine shame to admit to actually liking the movie, I personally am not afraid to give it my seal of approval. And I'm awfully manly.
The new DVD release features a ton of extra footage, commentary track, and a making-of documentary. Worth checking out.
The day they met.