Relationships are messy, complicated, tortuous, confusing, and wonderful little things. In the hands of the right filmmaker, they're also pretty damn entertaining to watch. Taking his cue from the works of Woody Allen, director Rob Reiner's hit "When Harry Met Sally,' struck quite a chord with audiences when first released in 1989. Telling the simple (or perhaps not so simple) story of boy meets girl, Reiner tapped into the collective unconscious of the dating world, to come away with a funny, sweet, and above all, honest look, at the painful, joyous, unknowable mystery that we call love.
The plot revolves around two wildly different individuals, the innocent, cheery Sally (Meg Ryan), and the neurotic, cynical Harry (Billy Crystal) as they unintentionally run into one another over the course of a decade and go on to develop a deep friendship. Eventually, it seems like romance might be blooming between the unlikely, yet somehow perfect pair, but complications arise that could destroy any chance at a real relationship.
The script is a charming and intelligent examination of the stark differences and unifying traits that separate and attract men and women. Culled from the collective life experiences and personal stories of screenwriter Nora Ephron and director Rob Reiner, the story feels real and truthful, while always remaining entertaining and engaging. The early portions of the plot are structured like a series of vignettes, featuring comedic and insightful conversations between Harry and Sally as they serendipitously meet over the span of several years. Ultimately, the script settles into a single time-frame but still plays out through dialogue heavy scenes of clever back and forths between the two stars. Ephron's observations about relationships and frank portrayals of the inner workings of both sexes are smart and playful, revealing the hidden truth behind what men and women are really thinking. In fact, several scenes, concepts, and lines of dialogue are so on the money, that they have become cemented into the very zeitgeist of society, forever immortalized to be eternally quoted and referenced by bickering couples for all time.
Beyond the screenplay itself, what really makes the film work are its richly textured characters. Harry and Sally are both full, deep, beautifully realized creations, and the combination of Ephron's script and the actors' performances immediately endear all of their humorous eccentricities to the audience. Crystal and Ryan become the embodiment of cinematic chemistry, palpably displaying that certain mysterious spark that radiates from all of the best silver screen couples. In many ways they are the polar opposites of each other, and the clash of their varied idiosyncrasies provides the movie with much of its wonderful humor. The banter between the two is certainly marvelous, and indeed a highlight to watch, but Crystal's silent, bewildered reactions are just as memorable as any of the lines they utter. Beneath the comedy and jokes, both of these lonely individuals have a true, beating heart, and the story never shies away from the more dreary, complicated realities of their up and down journey toward love. As pointed out by the filmmakers in the special features, unlike most contemporary movies of this type, there are no real external obstacles or exaggerated contrivances keeping them apart, instead, their conflicts are of the internal variety. This leads to a conclusion which really allows the characters to grow and develop in meaningful ways, by working through and even embracing some of their own hang-ups and neuroses.
Not wanting to upstage the wonderful dialogue and performances, Reiner mostly adheres to a purely functional style, placing the focus squarely on his actors and their words. However, that isn't to say that the proceedings are completely free of interesting, visual touches, as cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld brings a wonderful but appropriately understated eye, and Reiner does inject a great sense of comedic staging. The scene with Harry and his friend Jess (Bruno Kirby) discussing Harry's divorce while at a sports game is a great example. Caught in a celebratory audience wave, laughs are earned from the specific and perfectly timed juxtaposition of Crystal's dialogue and the untimely physical situation that the duo find themselves in. Split screen is used to great effect as well, making fun comparisons between characters while simultaneously and paradoxically drawing them closer together and further apart. Reiner also employs an interesting structural motif, ending various segments in the picture with sit down interview confessionals between elderly couples describing how they first met and fell in love. These recurring stories, aside from simply being sweet diversions, serve to expand upon the deeper themes of the film while foreshadowing its eventual conclusion.
Though I haven't exactly been kind to some other romantic comedies in the past ('Just Go With It,' 'Mystic Pizza'), 'When Harry Met Sally' is a perfect example of the genre done right. A shining collaborative effort between some very funny and talented individuals, the film is an intelligent, humorous, and warm examination of our often numerous and puzzling contradictions, and our universal desire to find comfort in the arms of someone we love. The simple questions the movie raises about relationships may never be fully answered, and men and women may never fully understand one another, but as the film so simply demonstrates, that may not really be such a bad thing after all.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
MGM presents 'When Harry Met Sally' on a Region A BD-50 disc housed in a standard case. Some logos and warnings play upon start-up before transitioning straight into the film, forgoing a traditional menu. The release is currently available exclusively at Walmart.
The movie is encoded with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. This is a mostly pleasing and respectfully authentic presentation.
The print used is in great shape with only some very minor specks visible here and there. A rich layer of thin grain is present throughout, giving the proceedings a natural, filmic quality. With that said, a few isolated sequences do display a very slight smearing quality in faces, but this is minor and the majority of the presentation is free of unnecessary digital manipulation. Detail is often surprisingly strong, giving nice layers of depth to the simple but elegant cinematography. Colors are a little muted, but natural, with a few shots displaying some welcomed vibrancy, particularly in the autumn leaves of New York. Black levels are deep and consistent, and whites are bright without blooming.
MGM has done a solid job of presenting this fan favorite film on Blu-ray, making this a good example of how to treat a catalog title release.
The film is provided with an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track along with Spanish DTS 5.1, French DTS 5.1, German DTS 5.1, Russian DTS 5.1, Polish Dolby Digital 5.1, and Portuguese Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks. A plethora of subtitle options are also available, including English SDH, Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, German, Chinese, Dutch, Korean, Polish, and Swedish. While not bad, this is a very basic audio mix.
Since the movie is almost exclusively a series of conversations, it should come as no surprise that this track is primarily dialogue driven. Thankfully, speech is crisp and easy to understand, but perhaps a little thin. Directionality is kept to a minimum with some sporadic effects and music. Surround use is essentially nonexistent, with only some faint echoes of the score hitting the rears. Dynamic range is fine but unimpressive, and bass isn't really much of a factor. Balance between the dialogue and… well, the rest of the dialogue, is handled well, and all of the movie's famous quotable lines come through nicely.
The audio gets the job done, but rarely comes across like a legitimate 5.1 mix. Still, the presentation is suitable for the material and a more robust remix would have been disingenuous.
MGM has compiled a plentiful collection of standard definition supplements, but unfortunately, as is the case with all too many releases, the extras tend to continuously repeat the same bits of information. All of the special features are presented in standard definition with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio and English, Spanish, Korean, French, and Italian subtitle options unless noted otherwise.
'When Harry Met Sally' is a romantic comedy classic that completely and effortlessly defies the sometimes banal trappings of its genre. The story is funny, touching, and filled with frank, smart observations. The video and audio both offer solid and respectful presentations. Supplements are numerous, but unfortunately they tend to be rather redundant. Despite any minor complaints, this is a very nice disc for a very nice film, one that would make a worthy addition to any movie fan's shelf. Oh, and it's currently selling for just $10!