Thursday, 1 October 2009

Harry, you might not believe this, but I never considered not sleeping with you a sacrifice.

No 90 - When Harry Met Sally
Director - Rob Reiner

Once again, this little blog allows me to rack up one of the (alarmingly many) classic films that I have never seen. Today is all about the rom-com. Or relation-com. Or friend-com... because 90% of this film isn't about love but about the relationship and friendship between two people and how it develops.

I'm naturally wary of romantic comedies. I have discussed my preconceptions with them before, it is too easy for the film to fall into a formulaic and predictable set up. For the film to lose any sense of drama. We know the couple get together at the end... that is the point of a romantic comedy, what is important is the journey. You want the film to be interesting and different. You want the characters to be likable and have development. We all know where we're going, lets enjoy the ride.

Luckily the story is superb. It talks about the subtle way that a friendship can build up. Beginning with two brief moments separated by six years. The first two meetings don't really set up much. It shows that Harry and Sally are very different from each other, and don't really get on with each other.
It is the third time that is the important meeting. Both parties have recently separated, both feel low and fragile and both use this opportunity to offload to the other person. Thus, the pair begin to spend more time together and begin to connect and begin to spend more time together.

This is what I like about the film, it all feels so natural. The friendship between them seems to strengthen and improve at a believable rate and the chemistry between them is excellent. I'd not really seen much of Billy Crystal's work before this (with the exception of the Oscars) and he plays a really strong performance, neurotic, nervous, self loathing womaniser. Like an angry Woody Allen. Meg Ryan is fantastic as the sligthly overbearing but generally happy and emotionally repressed Sally. The couple spar really well against each other as they essentially don't agree on anything.
Also, something that I have never noticed in more modern films, Meg Ryan has really pretty eyes and is stunning. True fact. I mean yes she has truly truly AWFUL hair (every one of her hairstyles in the film suck) but she is pretty so she almost pulls it off. The moment that best showcases her is the little proud smile she pulls just after the infamous orgasm scene. That for me is the funniest moment of the whole scene, but also Meg Ryan at her prettiest.

Their friendship feels real, but is ultimately doomed from one of the first lines Harry utters in the film.
men and women can't be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.

This is reinforced by occasional, beautiful, fleeting moments where one will look at the other with longing, or love. Normally when drunk. Followed by the confusion or shock on their faces that they've had the thought at all. It just all feels so real and so wonderful that you can't help but empathise with these characters.
However, because of those little moments. Because of Harry's theory of mixed sex friendships, you know that eventually the sex part will get in the way.

And it does.

It is romantic comedy law (and lore, either spelling works) that there must be an argument - something that splits the pair apart so they can overcome it. This time they have sex and it ruins the friendship. Harry freaks out and Sally gets mad and decides that she hates him for it. It doesn't feel contrived, it doesn't feel crowbarred in. It feels like the natural (and sad) end of a friendship.
The only time where the film dabbles with Deus Ex Machina is with the fact that Harry's best friend has fallen in love with Sally's best friend and they get engaged. This offers the perfect situations for Harry and Sally to be forced in each other's company and Harry can continue to try and beg Sally for forgiveness at weirding out.

I was going to talk about Harry and Sally's friends because Carrie Fisher and Bruno Kirby are fabulous and very funny.
Likewise I was going to focus on the great fact the film is interspersed with little tales from elderly couples on how they first met and fell in love. One of the old people is called PETER PAN!!!! How fantastic is that?! I'll tell you.... very fantastic. However, the focus of the film is very much on Harry and Sally... and therefore this blog should focus on them too and should end the way that the film ends.

Harry's final dash. I hate final dashes. Especially final dashes to the airport, where they get there just before the other person gets the plane. It is lazy and formulaic.
What I love is that Harry's final dash has no deadline. He isn't running to stop her from leaving. He is running to be with her. It is a fabulous, true and pure depiction of love.
I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.

It is a fabulous heart melting speech and finally, FINALLY.... they get together.


Siobhan said...

I rrally love that final speech. I love the natural relationship they develop, I love that you can belive in his freak out and her response as by that time they are characters and not just cliches and I adore the interspersing with talking heads. This is one of my favourite films and one I love more each time I see it (which for the seven years when I had it on video was about twice a year)

Dallas King said...

Hey there. Now following your blog. Nice to know that there are more people like me in the world!
When Harry Met Sally is the ultimate rom-com in my opinion. Waiting to do this with Casablanca as a great double bill.
Favourite scene in the film is actually at the football stadium and the "don't f*ck with Mr Zero" story. Dialogue is so well cut with the mexican wave and the kicker of "well that symptom is f*cking my wife" kills me everytime.
Good luck with the eternal quest to finish the list, will let you know when I find a copy of Heimat (that was the one I knew I would struggle to find).

cdave said...

Got to say I love this film too.

The stage version with Luke Perry & Alyson Hannigan had the same plot, but was mearly good.