I became a fan of rom-coms because of “When Harry Met Sally.” For once, the guy was a smart alec who didn’t look like a Ken doll. One of those “He could be me” situations.
And Meg Ryan was everybody’s high-maintenance but sweet girl next door.
In fact, I think that without this movie, Billy Crystal doesn’t host the Oscars. Nope. Not even a presenter without this film.
And this is Crystal’s movie. Nora Ephron gets the writing credit and Rob Reiner gets the Director’s chair, but make no mistake – this movie is full of Crystal ad-libs.
The famous restaurant scene? Not scripted. The “loud” part was Ryan’s idea, and the famous “I’ll have what she’s having” line? All Crystal.
Add in Bruno Kirby, a Crystal sidekick if there ever was one, and Carrie Fisher who deserved a supporting actress Oscar, and you have a great cast.
Scene after scene in this film is improvised. The actual script was the basic story, but the dialogue was basically Billy Crystal riffs from his standup routine or conversations with Reiner.
Heck, no one even knew what to name this movie, going through more than a half-dozen titles before settling on this one. And not to forget, the ending changed, too.
So this isn’t a case of “if it ain’t on the page, it ain’t on the stage.” Reiner’s success for this film is hiring an extremely talented and funny improvisational actor and surrounding him with people who could play off of that rather than be put off by it. Ryan actually raises the level of Crystal’s humor. She plays audience to him when he needs it, and one-ups him when she wants to.
It was a monster hit, grossing $92 million from a $16 million budget. The Oscars mostly ignored it, save a nomination for Nora Ephron for Best Screenplay (a joke since the best lines are ad-libs).
The magic of this movie is that it could play today and be relevant and funny. Relationships are still about the same things and still challenge the same things about ourselves. Everyone has that friend who might have been something more if the timing was different.
It’s worth another take.
The Highlight Reel
There can be only one. Katz’s Delicatessen and a debate whether a man can tell if a woman’s sexual fulfillment is real or rehearsed. The proof is about as memorable as a scene can get, with the absolute best closing line.
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