Twenty-three years after a release that garnered $92m in the US, introduced the fake orgasm into cinema and anointed Meg Ryan as the queen of ’90s romcoms, When Harry Met Sally… is the victim of its own success.
Cosy? Headily romantic? On closer inspection, it ain’t.
Catching up with it on Blu-ray, it’s not only Barry Sonnenfeld’s ravishing New York visuals (every autumn leaf seems newly burnished) that pop into sharper focus.
Sharp-eyed, bittersweet and smart as a whip, director Rob Reiner and screenwriter Nora Ephron’s originally R-rated film is crammed with quirks (Billy Crystal’s Harry is as morbid and cynical as Ryan’s Sally is fussy and controlling) and caustic truths about dating and divorce.
Rather than the comfy chick-flick of popular memory, it’s a defiantly equal-opportunity comedy whose verbal tennis recalls ’40s battle-of-the-sexes comedies like Adam’s Rib.
Ephron crafted her Oscar-nominated script after lengthily interviewing Reiner and producer Andy Scheinman about men’s feelings about relationships (the ‘men and women can’t be friends’ pitch was Reiner’s idea).
Her finest screenplay work, along with Silkwood and Heartburn, it’s still as crisp as it is curious, not to mention expertly structured. (Even the “story of us” inserts, rewritten from real confessions, are zingers.)
But what knocks it out of the park is the combination of Ephron’s insights and Reiner’s matchless comic chops, the kind that mix Harry’s desolation at the end of his marriage into a football-crowd Mexican wave.
Riding a still-unmatched run of ’80s hits (a Reiner reappraisal is way overdue), WHMS shows him at his surefooted best, shooting deftly and unfussily, and cutting for maximum yuks.
The film’s other great collaboration is Ryan and Crystal, her open-faced vulnerability neatly complementing his yappy sarcasm and hangdog mannerisms.
It’s surely his best screen performance, sadness laced under the shtick.
Yet while Crystal gets most of the great lines, Ryan’s mobile playing remains delicious. Nothing in the Katz’s deli orgasm scene is as funny as the guileless face she puts on to resume eating her salad.
Extras weren’t available for review, but going by the US release you can expect a chatty, anecdote-crammed commentary featuring the late Ephron and a slew of talky Making Of featurettes.