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When Harry Met Sally… (1989, Billy Crystal, Meg Ryan)

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Classic comedies are infrequent, with gifted genre directors – Billy Wilder, Woody Allen – rarer still. With just two films Rob Reiner joins this select list: after This Is Spinal Tap he delivered a knockout comedy based on a simple question: can a man be friends with a woman he finds attractive?

Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) thinks not, having blown a friendship with Sally Albright (Meg Ryan) as they graduate. Five years later they meet again, but little has changed: his cynical pessimism continues, as does her buoyant outlook on life. When he announces his forthcoming marriage, she indicates her own loving relationship.

Another five years pass, and a chance meeting in a bookshop shows that Sally is single and Harry about to divorce. A platonic friendship begins, and is abruptly disturbed when a hint of mutual attraction emerges. Separately they try to pair one another off with their best friends, but in the process it is Marie (Carrie Fisher) and Jess (Bruno Kirby) who get together. Circumstances throw Harry and Sally together once again and with reticence succumbing to desperation the uneasiest of love affairs begins.

The set-piece gags – flawed partners, faked orgasms (with a payoff line from the director’s mother) – are underwritten with exquisite attention to detail and numerous private jokes (Crystal can be seen reading Misery , which Reiner went on to adapt) and Manhattan seldom looked this good, with cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld using his years with the Coen brothers to blend comic timing and panache, shooting all four main characters simultaneously to maintain intimacy.

production details
USA | 95 minutes | 1989

Director: Rob Reiner
Script: Nora Ephron,

cast
Bruno Kirby as Jess
Billy Crystal as Harry Burns
Carrie Fisher as Marie
Steven Ford as Joe
Meg Ryan as Sally Albright
Lisa Jane Persky as Alice
Michelle Nicastro as Amanda
Gretchen Palmer as Stewardess
Robert Alan Beuth as Man on Aisle
Harley Jane Kozak as Helen
Kevin Rooney as Ira
Franc Luz as Julian
Connie Sawyer as Documentary Couple
David Burdick as 9 Year Old Boy
Joe Viviani as Judge
Joseph Hunt as Waiter at Wedding

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