When Harry Met Sally: It Had to Be You

CAN TWO FRIENDS SLEEP TOGETHER AND STILL LOVE EACH OTHER IN THE MORNING?

whenharrymetsallyRob Reiner’s first idea for a film was rejected by Nora Ephron. They had just had a lunch meeting in New York City together with producer Andrew Scheinman. The purpose was to come up with a project, but it didn’t result in anything. Later on, Reiner and Scheinberg started talking about disastrous experiences from the singles scene, and when they all met again Ephron became interested in the idea of making a movie about a single guy and a single girl who become friends and refrain from having sex because they know it will change everything. This was in 1984. It would take another five years before the film arrived.

In 1977, students Harry Burns and Sally Albright (Billy Crystal, Meg Ryan) don’t know each other but share a ride from Chicago to New York City after the end of school. During the journey they learn just how different their attitudes are; Harry is a bit of a cynic and Sally is ever the optimist. This is when Harry explains to Sally that men and women can’t be just friends, but she disagrees. After the trip, they part ways and expect never to see each other again. Five years later they meet at an airport and share the same plane. They are now both in relationships, but their talk doesn’t end any better than it did the first time.

Another five years later, Harry and Sally run into each other in a book store. They are no longer in relationships and after some initial hesitation they decide to become friends, in spite of Harry’s declaration that men and women can’t be friends. It works beautifully at first… but physical attraction seems inevitable.

Charming little segues between scenes
After deciding to write the screenplay, Ephron conducted a series of interviews with Reiner and Scheinberg in order to make the character of Harry seem real. Sally in turn was based on Ephron and some of her friends. She also interviewed people who worked for the production company and that material was turned into charming little segues between scenes, interviews with old couples, which appear so genuine that I wasn’t sure at first if these people were real, or played by actors. When Crystal was brought onboard he contributed his typical brand of comedy, completing the character of Harry. Watching him together with Ryan in her breakthrough performance is a sheer delight; she’s the perfect choice to play a woman who sees through Harry’s cynicisms. They’re irresistible together, and Carrie Fisher and Bruno Kirby are also great fun to watch in supporting roles as their friends.

The narrative jumps years ahead, but every encounter between Harry and Sally is cleverly devised, making the journey from friendship to love seem clear but still fraught with the typical individual issues that may come up between two people who love each other but may not be capable of actually getting a romance to work.

This is a very warm and funny film, Woody Allen-ish in its portrayal of well-to-do New Yorkers falling in love while taking autumnal walks in Central Park. Simple and straightforward, with excellent use of old standards on the soundtrack, performed by Harry Connick, Jr. and arranged by Marc Shaiman.

The most famous scene is the one where Sally proves to Harry how easily a woman could fake an orgasm in bed. Taking place in a diner, it’s loud and jaw-dropping, and ends with that perfect line “I’ll have what she’s having”, uttered by a woman who’s played by Reiner’s mother. Since its debut, When Harry Met Sally… has grown to become the prime example of what we mean when we talk about good romantic comedies. It is still golden.

When Harry Met Sally… 1989-U.S. 95 min. Color. Produced by Rob Reiner, Andrew Scheinman. Directed by Rob Reiner. Screenplay: Nora Ephron. Cinematography: Barry Sonnenfeld. Cast: Billy Crystal (Harry Burns), Meg Ryan (Sally Albright), Carrie Fisher (Marie), Bruno Kirby, Steven Ford, Lisa Jane Persky. 

Trivia: Later a stage show. The film inspired Hum Tum (2004), an Indian romantic comedy. Albert Brooks was allegedly considered for the part of Harry.

BAFTA: Best Original Screenplay.

Quote: “Had my dream again where I’m making love, and the Olympic judges are watching. I’d nailed the compulsories, so this is it, the finals. I got a 9.8 from the Canadians, a perfect 10 from the Americans, and my mother, disguised as an East German judge, gave me a 5.6. Must have been the dismount.” (Crystal)

Last word: “The really interesting thing about it was in creating Harry, because it wasn’t written that way. When I came in, the movie was called ‘Boy Meets Girl’…and Nora and Rob were in sort of a stall with the story. And — I wrote about this at length in my book, which is out — because it was such an important time, Rob and I were the closest of friends. I mean, beyond close. It was also a different kind of chemistry, magic, something — we just, as friends, just sort of you fall into each other. And he was going through a divorce from Penny and he wasn’t happy and having a lot of emotional distress about it, and a lot of the scenes that happened to Harry and Sally were really Rob and I.” (Crystal, Entertainment Weekly)

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