Saturday, July 23, 2011

When Harry Met Sally Review

Another review coming at you about a famous film mentioned by both McKee and Snyder in their screenwriting books. I recently had the pleasure of watching When Harry Met Sally and I can see why it's a keeper.

Spoiler alert: don't read on if you have not seen the movie. Go watch it and come on back :-)
Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan are rock stars! They set the screen on fire. This is one of the best romance flicks I’ve ever seen. Harry is a cynical kidder with a distorted view of relationship dynamics and Sally is someone who likes to keep unhappiness out of her life and subsequently lets Harry in. I don’t really understand why the two drove to New York together. I’m assuming it was simply because Sally was friends with Harry’s girlfriend and they were both heading there. One of my favorite scenes is when Harry and Sally are talking to each other on the telephone while watching Casablanca in their separate beds and the screen is cut down the middle so it looks as if they are in the same bed. Sally asks Harry if he will sleep and Harry says, “Yes, and if not I’ll just moan all night. I’ll practice right now hmm… hmm... hmm...”. Sally’s motivations are vague to me. Here is this girl who portrays herself as a goody two-shoes type, yet is not afraid to fake an orgasm in public, which made for a hilarious scene by the way. I read Roger Ebert's review of this film (which I like to do every time I watch a movie) and Ebert agrees that the decision to do this fake orgasm scene is a creative choice that put comedy before authenticity. Sally was waiting for Joe to ask her to marry him, and was devastated to find out he simply did not love her. This discovery rocked her world because how could anyone not love Sally? So she thought. And why did she stick around with Harry? She tried dating other guys but it didn’t work out for reasons I cannot even remember.

“I hate it when you say things like that because it makes it impossible to hate you. I hate you.” This is how Sally responds to Harry’s profession of love at the end. I know what people say is not really what they think, but I’m having a difficult time evaluating Sally’s motivations. In the beginning she wants to be friends, then she’s shocked to hear about Joe and sleeps with Harry, but it was a mistake because Harry has a distorted view of sex, then Harry realizes he wants to be with Sally and Sally takes him. It’s like Robert McKee said in his book and I'll paraphrase—when a relationship in a story is structured as such: he loves me, he loves me not, he loves me, etc, and the climactic decision is "he loves me", there is no true closure for the audience because even is Harry and Sally do get married the audience is left thinking, "Give them some time and they'll hate each other again."

Crystal and Ryan are both great actors and their relationship is almost sad because they seem infinitely caught in a back and forth conflict. He sees sex as a tool and she wants to get married before she’s forty. Aside from the faults, Billy Crystal is so much fun to watch. Meg is pretty, but I felt like she was forcing things a bit. I have mixed feelings to be honest. When Sally tells Harry to come over after the news of Joe’s engagement there was a moment when I felt really sad for her, but then the rest of the scene felt forced. And that is generally how I felt about Ryan's performance. But now that I think about it, the problem was really the text. The music is great. I really wished it was Christmas and I was sledding with those kids. The ending was predictable and I was expecting and hoping for a twist, and there was in the sense of how Sally reacted to Harry’s proposal, but ultimately the ending was cliché. Another scene I remember was during the New Year’s Eve party when Harry and Sally are dancing. They press their cheeks together and Harry closes his eyes, as they turn Sally is both surprised and confused, they turn and Harry is staring starry-eyed, clearly thinking something similar. It’s a very touching moment that illustrates why this is a good movie.


  1. You have some great articles here about movies that I have to admit I haven't seen yet. I'm going to have to come back later.

    If you get a chance, check out a fellow writer's zombie story and help me make him wear an embarrassing shirt next year! Details are here:

  2. The three film reviews I have posted have all been on great films so you wouldn't be wasting your time watching them I promise. Thanks for stopping by!