One of the best romantic comedies of the past 30 years, 1989's When Harry Met Sally... ranks as one of the more timeless movies of the era of big hair and skinny ties. Its examination of how men and women approach love and friendship is as charming as it is insightful, and Nora Ephron's screenplay crackles with wit. The film boasts everyone at the top of their game, from director Rob Reiner to stars Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan, and it gets a loving reprise in this double-dip "collector's edition" release from MGM.
Chances are you know the movie and its friends-to-lovers odyssey of abrasive but funny Harry Burns (Crystal) and plucky but uptight Sally Albright (Ryan). The pair meets not-so-cute in 1977, when Sally gives Harry, who is going out with a friend of hers, a ride from the University of Chicago to New York City. He spits grapes against her car window and makes boorish remarks about women; she comes off as an anal-retentive Pollyanna. Stuck together in the car for long stretches, Harry fills Sally in on his decidedly dour worldview, especially when it comes to his strident belief that a man and woman can never be friends because the man will always be preoccupied with sex. They reach the Big Apple and, needless to say, quickly go about their separate ways.
This being a romcom, however, it's only a matter of years before Harry and Sally bump into each other at a New York City bookstore. Both have gone through painful breakups, and they find unlikely solace in each other's company. Before long, the two are close friends. They even try setting each other up with their respective best friends (Carrie Fisher and Bruno Kirby), but instead it's the friends who become an item.
With its urbane flavor, hyper-verbal characters and travelogue of New York's most scenic locales, When Harry Met Sally recalls vintage Woody Allen. But Reiner and Ephron are less highbrow than the Woodman. Harry and Sally are smart but not intellectual, somewhat neurotic but no more so than the teeming masses who made the film a surprise hit back in the summer of 1989.
The leads are magnificent. Billy Crystal lacks the depth to make you forget he's Billy Crystal, but he lends an intriguing shade of brooding and self-absorption to Harry. Meg Ryan is the real revelation. In a breakthrough role, she is captivating: beautiful, funny and totally credible. The celebrated orgasm-in-the-deli scene alone is worth the price of admission.
All the elements of production fit together wonderfully. Then-cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld bathes the Big Apple in a sumptuous romanticism (Central Park is especially lovely), while the film gets a big boost from a soundtrack of American standards featuring Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra. And speaking of Ol' Blue Eyes, When Harry Met Sally also provided welcome exposure for a 20-year-old Sinatra acolyte by the name of Harry Connick Jr.
In the end, what makes When Harry Met Sally so enduring is that it's funny -- sometimes hilariously so -- and usually from an honest place. No wonder such concepts as "high maintenance" and "transitional person," terms introduced in the film, have long since entered the collective consciousness. Ephron's Oscar-nominated script, arguably her best, hones in on the quirks of relationships without losing its effervescence.
Her writing is well-served by Reiner's crisp direction. In nearly every aspect, the film overflows with a deep appreciation for romance that miraculously avoids corniness and cliché. Reiner framed the story with vignettes in which older couples recount how they met. By all rights, the idea should have been too mawkish to work, but it does. As a result, When Harry Met Sally becomes something of a valentine to love itself.
Presented in anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1, the DVD is terrific, with sharp lines and radiant colors. It's a fitting showcase to the talents of cinematographer-turned-director Barry Sonnenfeld. Nevertheless, a cursory look at the film's earlier "special edition" doesn't appear to be too different in terms of picture quality.
Viewers can choose between 5.1 or 2.0 Dolby Surround. Both are adequate. The dialogue-driven film doesn't give rear speakers much of a workout, although the stellar soundtrack is nicely showcased in 5.1
Audio tracks are also available in Spanish and French, with optional subtitles in English and Spanish.
When Harry Met Sally's previous incarnation on DVD had slim pickings for extras. The little that appeared earlier, including a rote documentary and Rob Reiner commentary, have been expunged for superior fare.
First up is a wonderful commentary uniting Reiner, Ephron and Crystal for a trip down memory lane. The trio is loquacious, funny and full of entertaining anecdotes. Meg Ryan is conspicuously absent in any of the supplemental material produced specially for the DVD.
Also included are several featurettes. The best of the lot, It All Started Like This, is a freewheeling 19-minute, 40-second chat between Reiner and Ephron. They discuss the genesis of the project, as well as what comic bits were inspired by real life. Evidently, Reiner didn't know until the film shoot that, lo and behold, some women fake orgasms.
The remaining featurettes are less interesting, but still worth checking out. In Stories of Love (5:05), Reiner notes that the movie used real-life stories of how couples first met. The director adds that, appropriately, he met his own wife during the making of the film. When Rob Met Billy (3:55) details the longtime friendship between Reiner and Crystal, while Creating Harry (5:46) explains what Reiner, Ephron and Crystal each brought to the character. I Love New York (8:28) focuses on how the picturesque city factored into the storyline. What Harry Met Sally Meant (12:28) suggests that the flick isn't so much about friendship, but rather how men and women view everything differently (and a few years before author John Gray covered similar territory in Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, no less!). The most tenuous mini-doc is a seven-minute, 53-second quasi-"think" piece in which a sociologist and a sex therapist tackle the question: So, Can Men and Women Really Be Friends?
Seven deleted scenes have an aggregate running time of just past seven minutes, but, unfortunately, the scenes can only be viewed one at a time. It's good stuff, however, with some genuinely funny bits. Rounding things out is an original theatrical trailer and previews for West Side Story and other MGM romances.
Fans of When Harry Met Sally might well consider the double-dip, if only for the newer commentary and array of featurettes. The movie, a modern-day classic, just gets better with repeated viewings.