PHOTO: CASTLE ROCK ENTERTAINMENT / WHEN HARRY MET SALLY
When I was a kid, my mother had a small black and white TV in her bedroom. If I was home sick from school I was allowed to lie in her bed and watch movies on it. She had a big pile of tapes, and among them was When Harry Met Sally.
I wasn't allowed to watch it when I was little. But by the time I was 12, I had it on high sick-day rotation. Then, like most kids, I totally forgot it existed and didn't watch it again—not once.
Until this week.
It was the death of one of my absolute heroes, Carrie Fisher, that prompted the revisit. I started with Star Wars. Next I went for 'Rosemary's Baby', the wonderful season-two episode of 30 Rock. And then, I decided it was time for When Harry Met Sally.
I'm sorry I waited so long, because this is the perfect film. Before you start whining about how Billy Crystal is not a romantic lead or the fact the "men and women can't be friends" premise is shaky, just stop for a moment and consider this: A perfect film doesn't have to be actually perfect; it can just be true to itself.
That's what gets you about When Harry Met Sally. It's true to the message it wants to send, which is about friendship and love and living life.
When Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan get in that car and drive to New York from Chicago, it's Nora Ephron's sharp wit that grabs you, but the dialogue alone would be nothing if it was being delivered by different actors.
Ryan is perfectly prissy, complete with a life roadmap like literally every woman I have ever met (and also myself). Crystal is that guy we all know: really pretty average but super confident and opinionated. In someone else's hands—say a traditional romantic lead of the era, like maybe Harrison Ford—Harry would be insufferable.
And that's the genius here. All the casting is brilliant, low-key and, well, to labor the point just a little bit, perfect.
Fisher is simply wonderful as Sally's best friend Marie. She's no-nonsense, hilarious, warm and fun. Harry's best friend Jess (Bruno Kirby) is exactly the guy you think would be Harry's best friend. And the Jess-Marie relationship is delightful.
Need more evidence?
Exhibit A: Sally, Marie, and that other friend, talking men, marriage, and motherhood
Okay, it's true that a trope of romantic comedies is to make it so that the women are focussed on finding a man. This scene does that, but it also allows for a lot of acerbic excellence from Fisher, and the excellent point by Ryan that "the clock doesn't really start to tick until you're 36".
Which, when you compare it to all the 24-year-olds on reality TV searching for their soulmate, is very, very, refreshing.
Exhibit B: The magic eye contact on this terrible/wonderful double first date
If you didn't love this clever movie before Jess, Sally, Harry and Marie try and double date, the restaurant scene is sure to win you over. It's what I imagine Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds' first date must have been like, only with mustaches and '80s fashions.
Exhibit C: Pecan Pie. Pecaaan Pie. Pecan. Piiiiiiiie.
This was apparently a Billy Crystal ad lib, and is such a great, fun friendship moment. Friends do this kind of stuff together all the time. It's goofy and sweet and real. And the chemistry between Ryan and Crystal shines through beautifully.
Still not convinced? I assume you are a robot.
I could make a (very) long list of standout scenes from this movie, but then I would basically just be presenting you with every scene in the film, not in order.
The whole thing is wonderfully executed, warm, and very funny. It stands the test of time, and perhaps even gets better as we move through this modern world full of people who build their family from their friends, put their career first, and flip through (virtual) cards of eligible men to date.
No, I still don't agree men and women can't be friends. But in the end that doesn't matter. Because When Harry Met Sally is so, so good, that while I'm watching it I want that to be true.
Oh, and the soundtrack is divine.