[box cover]

When Harry Met Sally: Special Edition

MGM Home Video

Starring Billy Crystal, Meg Ryan, Carrie Fisher,
and Bruno Kirby

Written by Nora Ephron
Directed by Rob Reiner

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Review by Betsy Bozdech                    

Clark Gable and Carole Lombard had it. So did Rock Hudson and Doris Day. And in When Harry Met Sally, Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan have it in spades. What's "it"? Nothing less than perfect chemistry and flawless timing — the two essential parts of any classic romantic comedy. And that's exactly what When Harry Met Sally is. Along with films like It Happened One Night and Pillow Talk, Rob Reiner's funny, insightful look at what really makes men and women tick belongs in the romantic comedy hall of fame.

Not that anyone disputes that. By now, more than a decade after its 1989 release, When Harry Met Sally has become a universal shorthand for discussing relationships and the difference between the sexes. What guy, watching Crystal's Harry Burns explaining why men and women can't be friends ("the sex part always gets in the way"), hasn't found himself nodding in support? What woman, sympathizing when Ryan's Sally Albright finally breaks down after finding out that her ex-boyfriend Joe is getting married, hasn't wanted to give her a big hug and break out a pint of Ben and Jerry's as a show of solidarity? As Harry and Sally negotiate the realms of friendship, dating, and love over the course of a bumpy 11-year acquaintance, they represent the legions of us who are stumbling and bumbling about while still hoping against hope to find "the one."

Both Crystal and Ryan give matchless performances from the moment Harry and Sally meet in 1978, post-college graduation at the University of Chicago, until their happy ending. Ryan's Sally — sunny, idealistic, and hilariously uptight — is the perfect foil to Crystal's neurotic, pessimistic, quick-witted Harry. The sparks fly between them from the beginning, and their evolution over the years is natural and believable. (For proof beyond the dialogue, just check out Sally's changing clothes and hairstyle. When we first meet her, with her big, feathered, Farrah Fawcett-meets-Blair from the Facts of Life blond 'do and good-girl kneesocks, Sally is still naive and a more than a little self-righteous. But ten years later, her soft curls and relaxed jackets and trousers underscore the fact that she's loosened up... a bit.) As Jess and Marie, Harry and Sally's best friends, Bruno Kirby and Carrie Fisher also do excellent work, getting plenty of their own laughs while expertly supporting Crystal and Ryan.

And any discussion of When Harry Met Sally has to touch on the many classic scenes. From the shot of Harry and Jess intensely discussing Harry's divorce at a football game while in the middle of doing the wave, to Sally's famous deli-orgasm scene, Reiner and writer Nora Ephron did an excellent job of finding ways to make all their "talking scenes" original and fresh. (A good thing, considering that the movie is wall-to-wall conversation.) And the appealing Manhattan restaurants, parks, museums, and more restaurants used as locations, accompanied by Harry Connick Jr.'s gentle crooning and Marc Shaiman's arrangements of timeless standards, are enough to make you want to jump on the next plane to New York and move into a brownstone on the Upper West Side.

It's not surprising to find out that When Harry Met Sally is a deeply personal film for Rob Reiner. As he explains in his engaging (albeit somewhat sporadic) audio commentary for MGM's special edition DVD, the story comes directly out of his own experiences re-entering the dating world after a divorce. He and friend/producer Andrew Scheinman decided their relationship woes were a movie waiting to happen, so they tapped romantic comedy queen Ephron to write a script about them. "Basically," Reiner explains, "Nora sat with me and Andy Scheinman and took notes on our personal lives and then made it into this film.... It really came out of the ten years that I spent trying to make a go of it with the opposite sex." What's more, Reiner met his current wife while shooting the movie, so, he says, "it's like watching a home movie."

Both Reiner's commentary and the disc's 33-minute "making-of" documentary offer lots of interesting tidbits about the history and production of the film. (Some of the stories are repeated in both, but that's not really a big drawback, since few viewers are likely to go through them both one after another.) For instance, the scene in which Harry and Sally talk on the phone in bed while watching Casablanca was inspired by real-life late-night conversations Reiner had with Crystal and Scheinman. And the recurring motif of elderly couples telling their "how we met stories" was taken from another experience of Reiner's. He once asked a friend's quiet father how he and his wife met, and was delighted to see the man light up, still happy to tell the story decades later. Incidentally, all of the stories used in the movie are real, but the couples are actors — Reiner tried filming real people but, not surprisingly, found it hard to get concise dialogue.

The documentary features fresh interviews with Reiner, Ephron, Crystal, and Fisher, as well as clips from 1988 Q&A sessions with Ryan and Kirby, and a few quick behind-the-scenes shots. And there's a third big special feature on the disc, too — a set of seven deleted scenes. Only about seven minutes long altogether, the unused bits include everything from Crystal doing a Marlon Brando impression to one more "how we met" clip. It's interesting to see what got left out, but overall it's definitely a case of "you'll never miss what's missing."

The DVD's feature set is rounded out with French and Spanish subtitles, scene selection, the theatrical trailer (plus trailers for Reiner's Princess Bride and This is Spinal Tap), and a pretty cheesy music video of Connick's "It Had to Be You." A fairly standard eight-page booklet inside the keep-case offers much of the same information as the commentary and the documentary.

The excellent widescreen transfer is very clear; the colors of the autumn leaves in Central Park are rich and warm. And the Dolby Digital audio does justice to the smart dialogue and romantic soundtrack. All in all, When Harry Met Sally has held up admirably, both technically and emotionally, still offering romantic hope to soft-hearted viewers. As Reiner explains when he sums up the film, you never know what might be right under your nose: "My grandma used to have an expression, which is, 'If you don't look, you find.' And I think that's what this film's about. These two people are in plain sight, and they take 11 years to find each other."

— Betsy Bozdech

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