Welcome to Shiraz Cinema! Here we’ll discuss films that, by their very nature, persuade you to light some candles, pour some wine, maybe throw together a charcuterie board, and just treat yourself. There’ll be clever dialogue, maybe some great period-appropriate costuming, and oh so many romantic misunderstandings. Join me on this dive into rom-coms, Jane Austin adaptations, and other cinema just designed for a 1pm pour as I learn more and more about this gap in my film knowledge. This week we’re talking When Harry Met Sally!
I came extremely late to this film, one that I’d heard was perhaps THE crowning achievement of the romantic comedy. When I was a kid my mother devised a weird punishment: she’d just drag me through rom-coms and Jane Austin films that she rented on an endless loop. Time may be a flat circle, but for a boy being told he’s in the midst of a punishment you feel as though each film is an eternity and begin to have a negative association with these types of movies. I grew up with a knee-jerk, unhappy reaction to things like Emma (1996) or You’ve Got Mail (1998) and it really turned me off to a lot of great stories. Directors like Nora Ephron, Rob Reiner, and even Nancy Meyers were mostly outside of my wheelhouse and the types of idea I didn’t really enjoy. As an adult I came around to films like Titanic (1997) and One Fine Day (1996), but Rob Reiner’s When Harry Met Sally… (1989) was a mountain I became afraid to climb. See…it has a reputation for being perfect. There may be almost no better script out there nor better romance portrayed on film. It’s a movie about a stubby, balding man and the absolutely breathtaking Meg Ryan, one where each of them are intelligent and human characters in ways that lesser films haven’t been able to capture. It balked at it for years, but turns out this is a friend of mine’s favorite film and she took me, along with her husband and another friend, to see it at a revival theatre nearby.
I’m so glad I finally gave in. Holy hell this movie is perfect.
The film revolves around the friendship between Harry (Billy Crystal) and Sally (Meg Ryan), two individuals that get to know each other over a post-college road trip and, after twelve years of random encounters that result in a tight friendship, eventually fall in love. That’s it, that’s the idea behind the whole thing. It’s a very simple premise, one that revolves around falling in love with your best friend. Something this easy shouldn’t be too hard to watch, and yet I ride an emotional roller coaster with every viewing of this one.
Yes, I almost immediately bought and rewatched the film in March of 2020, less than a month after my first viewing. I’m not kidding, this thing is perfect.
The biggest draw of the film is that you know these people. The tiny dude with the alpha male attitude? You know him, probably spend time with him on weekends over beers and bullshit. As for the successful woman in your life, one that is in her thirties and feeling like she should be married and steady because that’s the society we live in? You damn well better bet that you know her. How about two friends that are openly horny for each other and just seem afraid to cross that line? If you deny that then you lie. We’ve all had those people in our lives, whether we’re in our early 20s or in our later lives. They exist in this frustrating world where we have to adhere to societal norms and not just shove them together because it’s already working.
I have to mention the score and music by Harry Connick, Jr. Holy shit. Seriously, it’s incredible the way he uses lounge music to score a story about two people who can’t help but experience a more real life than that atmosphere can portray. There’s something special about the way he structures the score with the interactions, using something so simple as a fight between friends to create a desperation. There’s a quote from The Holiday (2006) that I love. Jude Law asks Cameron Diaz on a date because he’s “running out of reasons why they shouldn’t.” That’s the feeling the score encapsulates, a 10+ year look at two people that watch the ground shrink beneath their feet as they realize they need to admit something they’ve felt for a long time. It’s one of the more beautiful scores of the late 80s, and one that perfectly encompasses the emotions of the film.
When Harry Met Sally… isn’t about the title, it’s about the ellipses. Our lives aren’t defined by when they begin, they’re defined by what we do after that. Rob Reiner, Nora Ephron, Meg Ryan, and Billy Crystal all worked to create the ellipses, a story about people that cannot untangle their lives and eventually run out of reasons to avoid admitting they love each other. It’s one of the sweetest films I’ve ever seen, full of beautiful imagery in New York City (the place I’ve visited once and would never have left if I hadn’t absolutely had to) and some of the most relatable performances I could have asked for.
This is a film that felt like coming home when I finally watched in, having eaten a sandwich at Katz’s Deli and listened to all of the Harry Conick, Jr. I’d Heard the final speech on a television show as a gag, loved Carrie Fischer enough to be excited at her appearance, and be absolutely mystified at the moment America found Billy Crystal sexy. While I do enjoy other rom-coms more (we’ll get to that after a few weeks) this is absolutely the gold standard, one of the best films I’ve ever sat through and one of the most wonderful experiences I’ve ever had. Thanks to my friend to opening me up to it, and thank you to the film for such a transcendent experience. Now…pour yourself a glass of wine, kick back, and revisit (or get over yourself and visit for the first time) he wonderful film When Harry Met Sally…, which is currently streaming on HBO Max.
Hey, look, I’m the first person to get all the way through a discussion on this one without mentioning the fake orgasm scene! Ah, shit, I just mentioned it…