WHEN HARRY MET SALLY, whatever its other merits, left us one immortal signature line that not only convulsed audiences back in 1989 but pucked its way into the global cultural lexicon as a failsafe gag to let people know you’ve got a modicum of cool–assuming your delivery is worth a darn. If you haven’t used it for a surefire laugh at some point or another, you really need to upgrade your game: there may be a Sally close enough to overhear you, and nothing will ever be the same. Like in the movies.
“If the two people are in relationships, the pressure of possible involvement is lifted… That doesn’t work either, because what happens then is, the person you’re involved with can’t understand why you need to be friends with the person you’re just friends with. Like it means something is missing from the relationship and why do you have to go outside to get it? And when you say “No, no, no it’s not true, nothing is missing from the relationship,” the person you’re involved with then accuses you of being secretly attracted to the person you’re just friends with, which you probably are. I mean, come on, who the hell are we kidding, let’s face it.”
The story of ‘Harry Burns’ (Billy Crystal) and ‘Sally Albright’ (Meg Ryan) begins in 1977 when, as fresh college grads, they share a ride from Chicago to New York City. Their bumptious exchanges about relationships leave them tiffed off enough that five years go by before they meet again, only to bounce off one another (in the wrong way) yet again. At this time they each have a romantic partner. Six more years down the line, their partners having parted, they find they have enough in common to form a friendship, which—well, you’ll just have to find out. In order to see if you’re having what they’re having.
Rob Reiner’s love life was in a depressed spiral when he pitched a relationship movie idea to Nora Ephron. Four years later her script and his direction of the actors turned their $16,000,000 relate-to-this comedy into the 12th most popular flick if the year, grossing $92,000,000. At 26, her first leading role put Meg Ryan into the “Get Me Meg Ryan” bracket and scooped Ephron’s screenplay an Oscar nomination.
“How long do you like to be held after sex? All night, right? See, that’s your problem. Somewhere between 30 seconds and all night is your problem.”
The brainy script wins all the way through because it has heart to go with its smarts. I’m not especially crazy over Crystal—he’s funny but a little goes a long way (one critic rather mercilessly described him as “amphibian”)—but adorable Ryan is pretty much perfect here. Unlike the Woody-bred neuroticism injected into most of Allen’s female characters, Ephron/Ryan’s simple-but-sharp Sally has more on the ball than tics and quirks. Flanking the fencing duo are great foil picks in Carrie Fisher and Bruno Kirby. The assorted older couples who pop up throughout in how-we-met vignettes are a charming touch.
“How much worse can it get than finishing dinner, having him reach over, pull a hair out of my head and start flossing with it at the table?”
As for “having“, Ryan proposed the scene, Crystal came up with the line, and Reiner’s mother Estelle got delivery duty. Shooting it took hours, with Meg valiantly variating for whatever Rob felt was right. My guess is she probably nailed it on the first take, but that’s because I think like a guy, and in Rob Reiner’s position, I know artistic integrity would not come first.
“It’s amazing. You look like a normal person, but actually you are the angel of death.”
With Steven Ford, Lisa Jane Persky, Harley Jane Kozak, Michelle Nicastro, the tickling lasts 96 minutes, just long enough to get the job done and leave most everyone with a smile. Naturally, there are sourballs stalking among us who have no time for rom-com whimsy, insight or spoof: reflect for two seconds on how much fun they are to spend an hour and a half with.
“Harry, you’re going to have to try and find a way of not expressing every feeling that you have, every moment that you have them.”