Thursday, December 30, 2010

When Harry Met Sally: To a Happy New Year

Well, it's my last favorite film of the year.  I think I did a pretty decent job keeping up on my goal.  I only missed a few weeks total.  I've decided to end the year the way I started it, with a romance.  This time, however, it's one of my all-time favorite romantic comedies, one where everything comes down to that faithful New Year's Eve.  Say goodbye to 2010 and ring in all the great things that 2011 will bring with "When Harry Met Sally..." (1989)!

"When Harry Met Sally..." is the story of a man and a woman and their friendship over many years in New York City.  Harry (Billy Crystal) and Sally (Meg Ryan) first meet for a road trip after college to New York.  Complete opposites, they part ways on arrival, only to meet again five years later on a plane trip.  Again they part, only to finally meet again six years later and become best friends.  But can men and women truly be friends without sex getting in the way?  Only time will tell in this brilliant comedy by screenwriter Nora Ephron and director Rob Reiner.

The concept for "WHMS" actually came about from Rob Reiner's disastrous life as a single man.  Ten years after his divorce from Penny Marshall, he was still having difficulty seeing himself ever fall in love again.  He also wanted to try and answer the question, "Can men and women truly be friends?"  So Reiner and producer Andrew Scheinman had lunch with Ephron to discuss the idea.  Ephron ended up just talking with Reiner and Scheinman about their single lives, and ran with the idea on her own for a while.  You see, this first meeting was back in 1985.  Reiner still had two more films to make before "WHMS" - "Stand By Me" and "The Princess Bride."  But the trio would get together once a year at least to keep the project moving until production began.

The character of Harry Burns is based primarily on Reiner himself.  Reiner was extremely depressed at that time in his life, and he cherished his depression.  Ephron thought his dark attitude toward everything was very funny though, so thus, Harry was born.  Reiner and Billy Crystal had been best friends (and still are) since the two met when Crystal did a guest spot on "All in the Family" as, coincidentally enough, Reiner's best friend.  But Reiner did not initially hand Crystal the part of Harry.  He looked around first before finally realizing that there was no other choice but Crystal.  Crystal had never had a leading man role in a film before, not like this, but he had witnessed personally Reiner's struggle to date again after his divorce.  Therefore, he already knew Harry inside and out, and with Crystal joining the team, the script just got even funnier.

Crystal came up with the most famous line from the film actually.  While talking about the script during a meeting, Ephron, Reiner, and Scheinman noticed it was slightly Harry-heavy, and they needed more insights into the female psyche for Sally.  So Ephron dropped the bombshell on them (remember, this was way before "Sex and the City") - women fake orgasms.  (In utter shock at this revelation, Reiner immediately asked every woman at Castle Rock if this was true, which of course, every woman admitted it was.)  So thus the famous deli scene was created.  Only in the first draft, Sally didn't fake an orgasm at the table.  That idea came from Meg Ryan herself.  Unfortunately, when it came down to the shoot, Meg was a little nervous and wasn't giving it the gusto Reiner wanted.  So Reiner demonstrated himself, slapping the table and screaming "Yes!" at the top of his lungs.  The funniest part about all this?  He did it right in front of his mother.  Crystal came up with the topper line, "I'll have what she's having," and Reiner gave it to the perfect actress - his mother.  That line is now #33 on AFI's "100 Years...100 Movie Quotes" list.

Ryan was not Reiner's first choice for Sally Albright either.  Other than "Innerspace," this was Ryan's first starring role as well.  Reiner had considered Molly Ringwald, Susan Dey, Elizabeth Perkins, and Elizabeth McGovern before finally hiring Ryan for the role that catapulted her into America's Sweetheart status.  And the character of Sally was based primarily on Ephron.  Someone who's very neat, controlling, yet optimistic in many ways, Ephron has the exact same characteristic of ordering all her food very, very specifically, mainly with things "on the side."  After spending many working lunches with her, Reiner noticed this trait and insisted Ephron include it for Sally.  Thanks to the fame of "WHMS," Ephron one time had a waitress mention to her, "Have you ever seen 'When Harry Met Sally'?" after Ephron gave another complicated order.

This is another one of the great films that my brother introduced me to.  It was the summer before I moved to Los Angeles, and I was visiting UCLA and taking a media workshop.  I stayed with my brother in his small single apartment for one night before I moved into the UCLA dorms for the workshop, and we watched "WHMS" while chatting about LA and college.  I fell in love with "WHMS" at the same time I fell in love with LA.  My love for Los Angeles may have waned over the years, but not "WHMS."  One reason it's so resonant for me (and everyone else) is because it's so real.  Even the small little vignettes where the older couples talk about how they met are real.  Reiner and Ephron interviewed so many couples about their love stories that they wanted to include some of them.  They even tried using the real-life people in the scenes, but unfortunately the timing was not there, so Ephron wrote the stories into the script and they then hired actors.

So, ring in the new year with this great romantic comedy!  "When Harry Met Sally" is available on DVD almost everywhere.  Have a wonderful New Year's Eve, everyone, and I'll see you back here in 2011 with even more great Hollywood trivia and stories to tell.  And thanks again for being part of such a wonderful year for me!

(Post-tidbit:  If you visit Katz's Deli in New York, you can sit at the actual table where the famous deli scene was shot.  They even have a sign pointing to it, which says "Where Harry met Sally...hope you have what she had!")

(Post-post-tidbit:  Ironically and wonderfully, while making this film based on his horrible single life, Reiner met and fell in love with his future wife Michele.)


  1. One of my favorite films ever. This is the quintessential rom com for me and many others. Thanks for another great entry!

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  3. Thank you to you both!! Happy New Year!