In the 26 years since its release in 1989, When Harry Met Sally… has become something of a classic; so much so that it is seen as the definitive blueprint for the modern romantic comedy. While it has been emulated, referenced and quoted ad-infinitum, it remains fresh and funny thanks to an intelligent, savvy narrative and brilliant performances from Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal.
The story is now a genre staple. First meeting as students, angsty wise-guy Harry (Crystal) and neurotic kook Sally (Ryan) embark on a friendship that endures over the coming years and remains defiantly platonic until, one fateful New Year’s Eve, it doesn’t, and everything is forever changed.
Nora Ephron’s screenplay is so perfectly pitched, so astute on the nature of both friendship (between both sexes) and love that it remains as relevant and rewarding as the day it was written. The two central characters are vividly drawn and hugely likeable from the off, complete with endearing quirks, such as Harry’s habit of reading the back page of a book first for fear of dying, and Sally’s militant approach to ordering food.
Crucially, too, while their chemistry may be immediately obvious, their relationship remains defiantly platonic for the majority of the film. If Harry makes an early pass at Sally – sparking the famous conversation about whether men and women can ever be just friends – the rest of Ephron’s narrative takes delight in debating the issue. That the pair’s love doesn’t spark from immediate physical attraction, but blooms through years of shared experiences and emotion, gives it a depth and authenticity rarely felt in the genre.
For his part, director Rob Reiner takes a relaxed approach, allowing the natural appeal of his stars – also including Carrie Fisher and Bruno Kirby as the pair’s best friends – to drive this story. Reiner is a masterful director of comedy (see also This Is Spinal Tap and The Princess Bride) and expertly mines the humorous moments of Harry and Sally’s friendship, which are elevated to iconic status by Crystal’s expert comic timing and Ryan’s endearing charm. (It’s also a joy to see the pair so evenly matched both in wits and importance to the story; the late Ephron was always a great writer of women, and Sally is one of her greatest creations.)
Set against a bewitching Manhattan backdrop, When Harry Met Sally… plays like Woody Allen meets 1940s screwball comedy, with a knowingly modern sensibility. While it may be packed with whip-smart, endlessly quotable dialogue and laugh-out-loud moments, its enduring popularity undoubtedly stems from the fact that it has genuine heart.
UK Theatrical Re-Release Date: December 11, 2015
This review was originally published by The List