WHEN HARRY MET SALLY - DVD review

Reiner's film breaks the romantic-comedy mold because it's not so much about Harry and Sally as it is about men and women.

James Plath's picture
James
Plath

"I'll have what she's having."

That line, spoken by a woman in a delicatessen who had just watched Sally [Meg Ryan] demonstrate to her friend Harry [Billy Crystal] how women commonly fake orgasms, is one of the most often-quoted in cinema history. It's also the scene that viewers remember most from this perfectly pitched and perfectly paced comedy about the differences between men and women--one that revealed the secrets of what men and women really think and want from each other. For that, you can thank friends Rob Reiner and Nora Ephron, the director and screenwriter whose honesty with each other makes up the core of this endearing and enduring film.

Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan star as a man and woman who "bump into each other" over a period of 11 years, become friends, and eventually fall in love. It's casual, it's episodic, and as Reiner admits, it's awfully talky. At the film's core is Reiner's and Ephon's opposing views of male-female relationships, with Reiner/Harry believing that a man and woman can never be friends if the man finds her attractive, and Ephron/Sally thinking that's just plain ridiculous. Shot in Woody Allen territory, the film is just as much a love-letter to New York City's Upper West Side.

What gives "When Harry Met Sally" a quasi-documentary feel is Reiner's sprinkling of testimonials from real couples throughout the film, with the husband and wife gleefully telling (or correcting the other) how they first met. There are also a lot of long shots and wide-angle lens shots that perpetuate the feeling of documentary, while Reiner, meanwhile, says that watching the film now is like watching a home movie because it was inspired by the 10 post-divorce years he spent as a befuddled single on the dating scene. Add Ephron's own anecdotes from her dating experiences and you get perhaps the most honest film ever made about male-female relationships. Everybody contributed stories and material, including co-producer Andrew Scheinman. And when it came time for casting, Reiner turned to longtime friend Billy Crystal, who also helped shape the script (and, it turns out, came up with that memorable deli punch line). He also went with Bruno Kirby, another pal who ended up playing Harry's best friend. A very young Ryan, it turns out, was the only one who wasn't a part of this circle of friends, but she quickly clicked with the group and also contributed to the final product--including the idea to actually demonstrate a faked orgasm rather than just talk about it. Carrie Fisher, who plays Sally's best friend in the movie, rounds out the cast, and the fascinating story of their friendships and collaborations make this film funny, breezy, poignant, and sensitive.

It's also perfectly edited. As Harry and Sally continue to bump into each other, by the wonderful expressions these actors deliver it becomes clear to everyone except the two of them than they belong together as a couple--despite how different they seem to be. But Reiner's film breaks the romantic-comedy mold because it's not so much about Harry and Sally as it is about men and women. Everything they say is as fascinating as if we were trailing Dr. Ruth for a day.

Those who have the Special Edition will wonder whether to upgrade, and I have to say that to my eyes the picture is slightly improved and the audio comes with a new 5.1 track. As for the bonus features, it's a tough call because the commentary is different, one making-of documentary has been replaced (not added to) by seven short features, and a music video by Harry Connick, Jr. turns up missing. More on that below.

Video:
The SE listed the aspect ratio as 16:9, while this version lists it at 1.85:1. But because the latter is stretched to fill out the screen and I can't tell any radical difference in the framing, I'm led to believe it's the same transfer. In any case, it looks very good for a DVD, with minimal graininess and only a little fuzziness along the edges. In his review of the SE, John J. Puccio complained about orange complexions, and I don't see any of that here.

Audio:
The audio sounds a little peppier, though, with a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround added and the original SE English Dolby Surround still on the menu, along with French and Spanish Dolby Surround. Subtitles are in English (CC) and Spanish.

Extras:
Instead of a "How Harry Met Sally" documentary, which was very good, there are seven new documentaries that rely more on interviews. "It All Started Like This" is reminiscent of those couples sequences. The recently made feature has Ephron and Reiner sitting opposite each other telling the story of how the film came into being. At one point, Ephron says, "That is not what happened," and sets Reiner straight. ""Stories of Love" brings Crystal in, with he and Reiner reminiscing about the genesis of those stories and a real-life story about how Reiner met his current wife on the set of the film. "When Rob Met Billy" traces the pairs friendship, with the two on-camera talking again, and "Creating Harry" overlaps quite a bit with "It All Started Like This." "I Love New York" tells about the locations that have since become famous, while "What Harry Meeting Sally Meant" is a wrap-up summary of testimonials from Reiner, Ephron, Crystal, Carrie Fisher, and others, concerning the impact and legacy of the film. And finally, "So, Can Men and Women Really Be Friends?" brings onboard a psychologist and sex therapist, who throw in their two cents' worth.

The biggest difference, though, is the commentary. In the original, which Reiner tackled alone, he seemed a little lost and uncomfortable, and there were long pauses. For this version, he's joined by the outspoken Ephron and Crystal, who cracks jokes and asks questions to prod the pair. It's a pretty entertaining commentary, though in the beginning they interrupt each other a great deal, as if mindful that the previous commentary had lots of dead air and wanting to make amends. But it all evens out, and it makes for another entertaining way to watch the film.

One last disappointment to report: the souvenir eight-page booklet from the SE is nowhere to be found in this "collector's edition."

Bottom Line:
If you know this film, then you know how good it is, and if you don't, it's a classic that belongs in your collection. John likened it to "Sleepless in Seattle" or "While You Were Sleeping," but I think it's more insigthful and edgy than either of those films, and frankly more perfect. This edition offers an upgrade on extras that should entice a few more people to have what we're having.

Ratings

Video
8
Audio
8
Extras
7
Film Value
10