Year of release: 1989
Starring: Billy Crystal, Meg Ryan, Carrie Fisher,
Buddy Hackett Bruno Kirby
Writer: Nora Ephron
Director: Rob Reiner
Cinematographer: Barry Sonnenfeld
Starring: Billy Crystal, Meg Ryan, Carrie Fisher,
Writer: Nora Ephron
Director: Rob Reiner
Cinematographer: Barry Sonnenfeld
2018 just has to be the year. I don't know what it'll be the year for, but it oughta be the year for something really special. Anything can happen; we got the Buffalo Bills in the playoffs, we got a failed gameshow host as U.S. President, and I hear tell they might even be bringing back Animaniacs. The human race is precipitously balanced on the edge of a razor blade, or maybe we're skating on thin ice, or perhaps we're dancing a waltz on a powder keg, or we could just be doing none of those extremely stupid, dangerous things and there isn't a superfluous metaphor to apply to society these days, try as we might. Maybe it's because I watched Good Girls Revolt, witnessed talking heads on the news debate whether the United States would turn North Korea into a concrete parking lot or vice versa, and saw the Iranian protests, but it seems like the world is just raring for a revolution of some sort. People sure would like to belong to one. The populace desires change. As usual, I've got just the thing.
Folks, it's time to for us, as a species, to watch more Rob Reiner movies.
Take an honest-to-God look at his stretch of five movies in a row when he was on top of the world (or at least sitting up there on the same mountain top with Steven Spielberg). From 1986 to 1992 Reiner had Stand by Me, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally..., Misery, and A Few Good Men. There hasn't been a stretch that good since Hitchcock. If I were as good at bending the rules as my favorite NFL head coach, I'd include 1984's This Is Spinal Tap, but 1985's The Sure Thing complicates matters somewhat. Each one of those movies is either a home run or a stand-up triple. The only one out of those that I haven't seen yet was 1989's When Harry Met Sally..., which I saw on New Year's Eve, 2017, at the Alamo Drafthouse in Ashburn, VA.
Believe me, I've had no shortage of recommendations towards this little film since I dedicated myself to the art of cinema some time after my first girlfriend dumped me in college. I used to utilize these lists, composed by the American Film Institute of the top ten westerns, top ten comedies, top ten movies where Joe Pesci plays an irascible tough guy, etc. When Harry Met Sally... kept on appearing, and I wasn't entirely sure why. I'd heard of the fake orgasm scene (is there any piece about this movie that doesn't mention this iconic scene?) and I knew about the bit with the pecan pie, but it sure didn't make sense out of context (but even less sense in context, which is probably what made it so much funnier in the theater). This movie is supposed to be a New Year's movie, so it made sense to watch it today. Kinda like The Shop Around the Corner on Christmas, or Addams Family Values on Thanksgiving.
When Harry Met Sally... is a romantic comedy that concerns itself with Harry Burns (Billy Crystal, who looks about 50 while playing a 30-year-old) and his lady friend (the space between those two words is significant) Sally Albright (Meg Ryan, who looks about 16 while playing a 30-year-old), two neurotic pals living in (where else?) New York. Immediately, the movie starts hard with the comedy by portraying Billy Crystal as an 21-year-old with a ridiculous wig and everyth- wait, that was supposed to be serious? Okay, for real guys, I actually love this movie, but that looked straight goofy. It's alright; Billy Crystal is immediately the best thing about this movie.
It's like a young, less ambitious Christopher Walken.
I once heard an associate once call Billy Crystal the funniest man alive, and I thought that sounded like a bit much, but after watching this movie I might believe it. Not that this is the funniest movie I've ever seen - not even close, really - but listening to Crystal just go sounds like he could turn a funeral into a riot. He's the infuriating type of funny, the kinda guy where you get innately jealous at just how funny he is, just how he can say an innocent line and just immediately take it from pathetic or vindictive or bland and instantly make it the most hysterical thing you've heard all day. There's a reason he hosts the Oscars every year: he's darned funny, and he's damned funny in this movie.
Meg Ryan's very good, but she's nowhere near as funny. That's not really a criticism, as no one could measure up to Billy Crystal in this movie. To her credit, it was her idea to actually fake the orgasm in the restaurant, though the punchline was Billy Crystal's idea. I will say that watching this movie in 2017 makes her hairstyles unintentionally funny. Carrie Fisher is hilarious in this as well, showing off that some of her best work actually came outside Star Wars. Bruno Kirby is good as well, doing a spot-on impression of Buddy Hackett for some reason. The real star of the show, however, is Nora Ephron.
Ephron, who started her career in journalism (not a bad start, that), was a truly remarkable screenwriter. Her dialogue is very similar to Quentin Tarantino, where it seems as though the writer is speaking directly to the audience, just relating how they feel about certain oddities of life, but in a way where the listener doesn't get bored after ninety minutes. It ought to be mentioned that the script was punched-up by Crystal, and much of the dialogue was based on conversations between Crystal and Reiner, and Ryan added the most memorable part, and I wouldn't be surprised if Fisher performed some uncredited script doctor work on it, but it's worth saying that Ephron was the one carrying the heaviest load here, and she worked on it for the better part of five years. I've got a lot of respect for anyone who works that hard and that long on anything, and not just because her early journalism career was portrayed in Good Girls Revolt (yes, that's the second time I've mentioned that show in this review, so you should absolutely go check it out).
Harry and Sally start off on the wrong foot, with Harry making a pass at her and then declaring that men and women can never be friends because of "the sex thing" (for more information on whatever that is, e-mail email@example.com). They depart disenchanted with one another. Five years pass and they find each other again, make small talk, and leave similarly unenthralled with one another. Five more years pass (neither character really seems to age, but it's only a little distracting). Harry and Sally meet up again, each having left their previous relationship, and decide to give this whole "friendship" thing the ol' college try. They talk, visit museums, eat lunch, make each other laugh, argue, make late-night phone calls while watching Casablanca, sing karaoke in public, and share their perspectives on life.
But they're just friends, you guys.
The question of whether men and women can be friends without benefits is the central question of the movie, and one that's often been posed to me throughout my life. Everyone's heard of the so-called "friend zone," and while its very existence is up for debate, I've never considered it a very interesting subject. Personally, I think it's downright nuts to think that men and women cannot be friends. You have to be out of your gourd to not appreciate someone's intellect, charisma, sense of humor. The fact that you feel carnal desires when you look at them shouldn't be enough to end a friendship; otherwise, what are we? Neanderthals? Philadelphia sports fans?
Some of the chief pleasures in life are almost universal. Some of my favorites include the rush of nostalgia upon stepping into your grandmother's house after being away for several years, the wave of warm air when you come home from a biting December evening, the smell of tulips on a spring afternoon, the taste of a tall glass of chilled cranberry juice after a grueling wrestling practice, and the feeling of getting into a perfectly made bed after a productive day. The number one thing I like, though, is seeing two people in love. Don't get me wrong, I especially enjoy being in love, but it's almost as much fun as seeing two other people who are truly happy with each other. I've never understood single folks who get sour seeing happy couples on Valentine's Day; I get that jealousy is a factor, but I can't begrudge someone for being happy when it doesn't impede my life in any meaningful capacity. I just like seeing people happy, and doubly so when they're happy with someone else. That's what a solid 75% of this movie is - two people falling in love with each other and not even realizing it. As sad as they claim to be with being unable to find love by dating, they're so happy with each other that that becomes the best part of the movie.
That's the same face I make after sex.
Harry and Sally end up sharing an evening of passion, and they can't quite tell whether it was the right thing. This is often cited as one of the weaknesses of the movie, because everyone - both the audience and tertiary characters - want them to get together, and it almost feels as if it's a late-in-the-game conflict to be resolved at the very end for a happy ending, and sure, that's exactly what it is, but I'm willing to defend it. It's actually one of my favorite parts of the movie - both characters care deeply about how the other one feels, and doesn't want to hurt the other. More importantly Harry and Sally desperately want to keep each other, and they're afraid that delving into a relationship could drive them apart, whereas if they just stay friends, well, that's a bond that's much tougher to break.
I won't say what happens after that, even though there's probably like 15-20 minutes left in the movie after that happens. That may feel like a weird place to drop a reader off, but it would feel like a spoiler if I gave away what happened. They might decide to stay together, they might break up and never see each other, they might decide to stay friends, or they might move to the Lost Aztec Temple of Mars and compose long-form poetry. The movie feels like it really could go any direction and still end on a pretty heartwarming note.
That's the keyword here, esteemed audience: heartwarming. It's one thing to have a ton of good jokes - and trust me, this movie certainly has more than its share of excellent jokes, such to the extent that I laughed a lot louder than I intended in a theater full of 40-year-olds who probably saw this in theaters when it was originally released - but it's another thing to make a romance movie that genuinely moves people, especially when one considers all the half-assed scripts that seem to get greenlit by major studios. This is the kind of screenplay we need. Speaking as a fan of classic movies, romances like A Matter of Life and Death, Casablanca, and Brief Encounter, it's kinda bizarre what's going on these days. We've exchanged blind dates for hookup apps. Desire for commitment and attachment is seen as a red flag as being "clingy". We've get major rules of etiquette for "sidepieces"; I thought those were things you attach to motorcycles for a buddy to ride with you. Ladies and gentlemen, pardon my New York accent, but what the fuck are we doing?
I don't know, movies just make me feel a certain way, that's all. Movies like this make me feel like maybe we need to be more patient with each other. Maybe we need to be more patient with ourselves. Human beings really aren't so bad; I should know, I've been one for almost my entire life. I know we're not perfect - 2017 showed that in stunning high definition - but if you get to know us, we really have great personalities. If you wait long enough, we might even just make you laugh.
Then again, I'm one to talk about patience. Last year my resolution was to be more patient, and that went south quicker than an Elvis fan on January 8th. As for me, the revolution starts with the self: you can't convince the customers to eat if you're not in the kitchen. I'm going to take it upon myself to watch more Rob Reiner movies. After all, his stretch from 1986 to 1992 was so good, I can only imagine how good his next movie must have been!
Y'know, instead, maybe I'll just going to resolve to lose 40 pounds. You know, something easy and painless.