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A-Ron’s Film Rewind Presents: The 30th Anniversary – When Harry Met Sally

A-Ron’s Film Rewind Presents: “I’ll Have What She’s Having”. A 30th Anniversary Appreciation Of Rob Reiner’s Rom-Com Classic Masterpiece & My Second Favorite Rom-Com “When Harry Met Sally”. Stars Billy Crystal & Meg Ryan Are A Match Made In Movie Heaven That Answers All The Tough Questions In The Delightful, Smart & Timeless Romantic Comedy Classic. 

Romantic comedies isn’t an easy genre by any means and it gets a lot of flak for their films. Perhaps it may explain as to why romantic comedies are seemingly hard to pull off. How many number of rom-coms have you watched over the years that felt so full of cliches that it just becomes so predictable. While rom-coms is one of my very favorite genres, I’ll admit to it’s repetition. As repetitive as the genre maybe and whether you love it or hate it, it’s hard to beat the gold standard in rom-coms, that is Garry Marshall’s “Pretty Woman”. 

Right alongside “Pretty Woman” as the second greatest rom-com is Rob Reiner’s touching and funny, “When Harry Met Sally”. Reiner’s film had set a new standard for romantic comedies, and it was led by the sharp interplay between Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan. The beauty of Nora Ephron’s script is that it raises the question “Can men and women ever just be friends?” and advances many ideas about relationships that became household concepts, such as “high-maintenance” and the “transitional person”. 

Nora Ephron has written several novels, but she is best known for her work in romantic comedies and was nominated for three Academy Awards for Best Writing, for the films: “Silkwood” (1983), “When Harry Met Sally” (1989), and “Sleepless in Seattle” (1993). Ephron also has written “My Blue Heaven”, “Michael” and “You’ve Got Mail”. 

Working behind the camera is the onetime Meathead of TV’s “All in the Family”, whose credits has qualified him to become one of Hollywood’s very best directors of comedy. Reiner’s filmography has included: “The Sure Thing”, “Stand by Me”, “This Is Spinal Tap!”, “Misery”, “The American President” and “The Princess Bride”. Each film is completely different from the others, and each one is successful on its own terms. While “When Harry Met Sally”  is his most conventional, in terms of structure and the way it fulfills our expectations. But what makes it special, apart from how Reiner beautifully executes the film in his direction, with his easygoing Woody Allen style filmmaking or the Nora Ephron screenplay, is the spot-on chemistry between Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan.

In 1984 Rob Reiner, producer Andy Scheinman and writer Nora Ephron had met over lunch at the Russian Tea Room in New York City to develop a film project, that Reiner pitched to Ephron who rejected it. When Reiner met with Ephron in a second meeting, he had pitched a new idea that he had wanted to do a film about two people who become friends and do not have sex because they know it will ruin their relationship but end up having sex anyway. The new pitch was inspired by Reiner’s life as a single man. Reiner had said in a past interview: “I was in the middle of my single life. I’d been divorced (from director Penny Marshall) for a while. I’d been out a number of times, all these disastrous, confusing relationships came one after another”. Ironically Reiner met his current wife during the making of the film. Ephron liked the idea, and Reiner was soon able to acquire a deal at MGM.

To get material for her script, Ephron interviewed Reiner creating the basis for Harry. Reiner was constantly depressed and pessimistic yet funny, which were the characteristics used for Harry. For Sally, Ephron had used herself and her friends for the character. Ephron had worked on several drafts over the years while Reiner had directed “Stand By Me” and “The Princess Bride”. 

During the screenwriting process when Ephron would not feel like writing, she would interview people who worked for the production company. Some of the interviews appeared in the film as the interludes between certain scenes featuring couples talking about how they met, although the material was rewritten and reshot with actors. Ephron also used inspiration from the real-life friendship between Rob Reiner and Billy Crystal. Like in the sequence where Sally and Harry appear on a split screen, talking on the telephone while watching TV and channel surfing, which was something that Crystal and Reiner did every night. In order to get into the lonely mindset of Harry, Crystal stayed by himself in a separate room from the cast and crew while they were shooting in Manhattan. 

Tom Hanks turned down the role of Harry, as he thought the film was “too lightweight”. Michael Keaton, Bill Murray, Jeff Bridges, Albert Brooks and Harrison Ford were considered for the role of Harry. While Molly Ringwald was offered the role of Sally, but was forced to decline due to a busy schedule. She would later go on to play the character in 2004 in the stage version of the film, on London’s West End.

Both Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan, couldn’t be a more perfect choice and they make a good movie couple because both actors are able to suggest genuine warmth and tenderness. This isn’t a romance of passion, although passion is present, but it’s a relationship that becomes possible only because Harry and Sally have grown, they have matured until they can finally see clearly what they really look for in a partner.

Ephron’s dialogue is witty and there are lots of quotable lines, the dialogue is easy to defeat many actors, but Crystal and Ryan make it work; their characters are smart and quick witted. Sally is a beautiful, open-faced, bright-eyed blond; as Harry is a gentle man with a lot of smart one-liners. What they both have is warmth. Crystal had brilliantly demonstrated that quality in his previous film, the underrated “Memories Of Me”, and here he does it again. He is one of the rare actors who can make an apology on the screen, and convince us he means it.

Meg Ryan who spends most of the movie trying to convince Harry, and herself, that there’s nothing between them and she has to let us see that there actually is something, after all. Harry and Sally are aided and sometimes hindered, in their romance by the efforts of their best friends, brilliantly played by Carrie Fisher and Bruno Kirby. The two meet on a blind date arranged by Harry and Sally, to provide a possible partner for Sally and Harry. They’re the kind of people who don’t make it hard for themselves, who realize they like each other, and accept that fact, and act on it. Really while it’s supposed to be about Harry and Sally, it’s at the same time not so much about Harry and Sally as it is about all men and women.

For the scene in which all four characters are on the phone at the same time, there were three separate sets built. Rob Reiner had explained: “We had three different sets: One where Bruno and Carrie were; a separate set where Billy was; and a third set where Meg was. It was all on the same soundstage. It’s almost like doing a recording in a studio. The phones were all hooked up to each other, because there are no cuts, if you notice….If somebody makes a mistake and it’s a three to four page scene you can’t cover it. You can’t cut away to anything. You have to do it over again”. So how many times did they try to get it right? Reiner says: “We shot it 61 times! If you remember at the end, they each hang up their phone like boom, boom, boom, boom all in rhythm. It took forever to get it right. We did one I think it was take 54 in, and we did it: They hung up the phones perfectly. Then Bruno blew his last line. So we had to start over again!”. 

“When Harry Met Sally” has many great memorable scenes. One of the great scenes is Sally’s picky and crazy eating habits. The scene was based on Nora Ephron’s picky eating and was added after director Rob Reiner saw Nora Ephron ordering her food. When Reiner brought this up, Ephron stated: “I just want it the way I want it,” a line which was also put into the movie. Years after the movie came out, when Ephron was on a plane and ordered something very precise, the stewardess looked at her and asked, “Have you ever seen the movie When Harry Met Sally…?”. 

Let’s not forget the most famous scene of them, where Harry and Sally are having lunch at Katz’s Delicatessen in Manhattan, as the couple are arguing about a man’s ability to recognize when a woman is faking an orgasm. Sally claims that men cannot tell the difference, and to prove her point, she vividly fakes one as the other diners sit and watch. The scene ends with Sally casually returning to her meal as a nearby patron (played by Rob Reiner’s mother) who places her order with a waitress saying: “I’ll have what she’s having”. When Estelle Reiner died at age 94 in 2008, The New York Times referred to her as the woman “who delivered one of the most memorably funny lines in movie history”. 

The scene had to be shot again and again, and Ryan had to demonstrate her fake orgasms for hours. Katz’s Deli still hangs a sign above the table that says, “Where Harry met Sally… hope you have what she had!”. This classic scene was born when the film started to focus too much on Harry. Crystal remembers saying, “‘We need something for Sally to talk about,’ and Nora said, ‘Well, faking orgasm is a great one,’ and right away we said, ‘Well, the subject is good,’ and then Meg came on board and we talked with her about the nature of the idea and she said, ‘Well, why don’t I just fake one?” Ryan was the one who had suggested that the scene take place in a restaurant, and it was Crystal who came up with the scene’s classic punchline of “I’ll have what she’s having”. The infamous orgasm scene was edited out of some airline prints of the film.

In 2005, the quote was listed 33rd on the AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Movie Quotes list of memorable movie lines. Reiner recalls that at a test screening, all of the women in the audience were laughing while all of the men had stayed silent.

Naming the film proved to be problematic. At one point, director Rob Reiner ran a competition amongst his Castle Rock Entertainment employees, looking for suggestions. Originally, Ephron wanted to call the film “How They Met” and went through several different titles, including: “Just Friends,” “Playing Melancholy Baby,” “Boy Meets Girl,” “Blue Moon,” “Words of Love,” “It Had To Be You,” “Harry, This Is Sally”. Nora Ephron was pleased with how the film turned out, but was unhappy with its final title; she has said it was the one thing if she could, she would go back and fix. 

The script initially ended with Harry and Sally remaining friends and not pursuing a romantic relationship, as Ephron felt that was “the true ending”, as did Reiner. Eventually, Ephron and Reiner realized that it would be a more appropriate ending for them to marry, though they admit that this is generally not a realistic outcome. The films final ending as it ends with Harry and Sally’s final interview was completely improvised.

On its opening weekend, in limited release, it grossed $1 million. Billy Crystal was worried that the film would flop at the box office because it was up against several summer blockbuster films, like “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” and “Batman”. The film went into wide release on July 21, 1989, and grossed $8.8 million on its opening weekend. It ended up grossing $92 million on a $16 million budget.

In early 2004, the film was adapted for the stage in a Theatre Royal Haymarket production starring Luke Perry and Alyson Hannigan. Molly Ringwald and Michael Landes later replaced Hannigan and Perry for the second cast. “When Harry Met Sally” was ranked #6 on the American Film Institute’s list of the ten greatest films in the “Romantic Comedy” genre.

Over the years, “When Harry Met Sally” has become the quintessential contemporary feel-good relationship movie that thirty years later still rings true. Ephron’s script is outstanding, and well deserved of her Oscar nomination. For years she still received letters from people obsessed with the film and still had people who said to her all the time: “I was having a Harry-and-Sally relationship with him or her”. “When Harry Met Sally” isn’t only one of the greatest romantic comedies of all time (second best in my book) but the source of one of the greatest laughs and memorable scenes in cinematic history.  

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About Aron Medeiros

Aron Medeiros
Aron Medeiros lives on the beautiful island of Maui. He is a member of The Hawaii Film Critics Society, movie critic for Maui Watch, a commentator and cast member of the NerdWatch pod cast. He is a 2003 graduate from King Kekaulike High School. His favorite film of all time is “Back To The Future”. He has worked at Consolidated Kaahumanu Theaters for nearly 13 years as a Sales Associate and making his way up to Assistant Manager. He has loved movies since he was a young boy, learning about movies from his Grandfather and being self taught.

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