When Harry Met Sally…, Sleepless in Seattle, and You’ve Got Mail
By Britt Argo
It’s February, Valentine’s month, and what better way to celebrate than to honor two queens of romantic comedy movies—writer/director Nora Ephron and America’s Sweetheart, Meg Ryan. The perfect month to rewatch and fall in love with these three Nora Ephron/Meg Ryan movies all over again: When Harry Met Sally… (1989) with Billy Crystal, Sleepless in Seattle (1993) with Tom Hanks, and You’ve Got Mail (1998) also with Tom Hanks.
When Harry Met Sally… (1989)
Written by Nora Ephron and directed by Rob Reiner—we were introduced to the opinionated and high-maintenance Sally (Meg Ryan) and cynical and neurotic Harry (Billy Crystal) just after college graduation when they share a ride from Chicago to New York. In a nutshell, we go on a journey as the two grow up.
Harry and Sally, fresh out of college, are polar opposites. She is precise, idealistic, and prudish. He is a womanizer, laid back, and opinionated. They spend the eighteen hour car trip bantering back and forth, debating about why men and women cannot be friends. Harry’s mantra is that a man can’t be friends with a woman because they will always want to sleep with her. Sally believes otherwise. She carries a resentment for him and what he stands for, when she meets him again, but life circumstances have changed them. Harry is more mature and recently divorced. Sally has just broken up from a five-year relationship with an acquaintance of Harry’s, and after eventually bumping into each other enough times, they let down their guard and slowly become friends.
They try to fix up their best friends (Bruno Kirby and Carrie Fisher), but comically, they hit it off, date, and marry—while Harry and Sally couple up as “just friends,” slowly and unconsciously falling in love with each other. They eventually sleep together. Sally immediately regrets it and proceeds to push Harry away. But after he dramatically runs through the streets on New Year’s Eve to eloquently profess his love to her at midnight, he finally wins her heart. It took twelve years and three months from when Harry met Sally for them to fall in love and get married and two hours for us, the audience, to embrace them (quirks, flaws, and all) and fall in love with them, too.
Why we love Harry & Sally: So many memorable moments. Still one of the most remembered scenes and quoted lines—the fake orgasm at Katz’s Deli and “I’ll have what she’s having” (from director Rob Reiner’s real mother). Sally’s quirky way of ordering food—with everything on the side—professing, “I just want it the way I want it.” Interestingly, this quirk is based on writer Nora Ephron. She does this in real life, and director Rob Reiner asked her to put this trait in the movie (thank you IMDB.com trivia). Love the scene with the four phones. After they sleep together, Harry calls his friend (Bruno Kirby) while Sally calls her friend (Carrie Fisher), who each have a phone on their side of the bed—both friends professing the details/regrets and all four talking over each other all at once.
Billy Crystal, elevates this sullen, deprecating character into an enduring guy we actually root for. He is funny, sings karaoke, does impressions—we want Sally to like him. And Meg Ryan can’t help but charm us, even when she is fussing, wriggling her face, or reacting to everything she doesn’t agree with—we still fall in love with her despite the flaws because Meg Ryan is just so likeable. We are rooting for them to get together. It also helps that the movie has picturesque NY scenes—lovely book stores, coffee shops, the Met, Central Park in the fall, and also, that wonderful Harry Connick Jr. soundtrack swelling in the background, with “But Not for Me” and “It Had to Be You,” to charm us through this comedy. A must watch for any mood. (Last tidbit—Tom Hanks was offered the role as Harry but turned it down thinking the script was too light. Lucky for us, he decided to work with Nora and Meg on the next two films.)
Sleepless in Seattle (1993)
It’s four years later, and writer/director Nora Ephron takes us on a new journey. Chicago architect Sam (Tom Hanks) is widowed, packs up his precocious 8-year-old son, Jonah, and moves to a Seattle houseboat for a “new start,” hoping they can get over the loss of his beloved wife. It’s eighteen months after her passing—son Jonah is worried about sullen dad, calls a national radio talk show psychiatrist, and asks for help to find Sam a “new wife.” Sensible, practical, and newly engaged Annie (Meg Ryan) in Baltimore, hears this call on her long ride to DC (over Christmas) and is immediately enchanted/hooked on this mystery man’s plight. Becoming recently engaged to her live-in boyfriend, Walter (Bill Pullman), a highly allergic, predictable, “vanilla” kind of guy, has prompted her to question—is there supposed to be ‘magic’—a spark, a sign, when you fall in love. Is there something more out there? Could that voice on the radio, Sleepless in Seattle, be “the one?”
With the use of her journalistic connections and advice from a quippy friend (Rosie O’Donnell), Annie hires a PI, travels to Seattle to try and meet them, and writes a letter (son Jonah loves) professing they meet on Valentine’s Day at the top of the Empire State Building (just like Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr in An Affair to Remember). Sam, aided by his pal (Rob Reiner), realizes he has to “get back out there” in the dating jungle, dismisses all the love letters from radio fans, and starts dating a lady Jonah refuses to like (she’s not Annie). When Jonah impulsively flies and travels alone to NY to meet Annie at the Empire State Building, his worried dad, Sam, makes it there just in time to finally meet Annie.
We should call this movie “When Sam Met Annie” because the entire movie is the lead up—fueled by the idea of love and romance. But Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan don’t actually share the screen until the last two minutes. We root for them, and just know, now that they finally meet, they must fall in love. It is after all—magic!
Why we love it: Again, idyllic dreamlike locations—Sam lives in a stunning house right on the Seattle waterfront and Annie on the cobblestone streets of Baltimore Harbor. All the events happen over wonderful, festive holidays—Christmas, New Year’s, and Valentine’s Day. Classic 40s/50s songs by Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Harry Connick Jr. trigger our emotions and memories of good times. All the ingredients for a perfect romance. But of course, we fall in love with Sam and Annie because we love Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan—perfect casting!
You’ve Got Mail (1998)
Nora Ephron (director/writer) once again teamed Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan together, but with a twist. Despite both being in relationships, Joe Fox (Hanks) and Kathleen Kelly (Ryan) start out as anonymous pen pals emailing each other on AOL—a wonderful friendship, sharing stories and advice. But in the real world, Joe Fox is opening a Fox Books (Barnes & Noble type store) in the same Upper West Side, NY neighborhood where Kathleen runs her quaint bookstore, The Shop Around the Corner. As the big giant that will put her out of business, Kathleen immediately hates Fox Books and Joe Fox. He meets her at her store and is smitten, but when she finds out who he is, they become nemesis and go to “war.” They both seek advice online from their pen pals to find help handling this bookstore war, and Joe tells her to “Go to the mattresses,” like in The Godfather—put up a fight.
When they agree to meet in person, it is only Joe who sees her and figures out his beloved pen pal is the same Kathleen who hates him. The fun begins when he doesn’t want to give up his friendship and decides to “win her over” in real life—bringing her flowers when she’s sick, coaxing her to get coffee, get lunch, meet in the park, and convincing her to finally meet her online pen pal (who she thought stood her up before). Perfect timing when they both break up with their “so wrong for them” partners (Greg Kinnear and Parker Posey), and at the end, when she finally finds out Joe Fox is her pen pal, “man of her dreams”—she forgives the deception and they fall in love.
Why we love it: Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. Tom Hanks is the perfect everyman/Jimmy Stewart. Everybody’s buddy—he’s goofy, smart, funny, dependable, trustworthy, and just likeable. His natural acting ability with the pause, the calming delivery. Sometimes it’s excited frantic blurts and ah-ha, other times, takinging a breath, head nodding, listening, absorbing it—then pausing with a slow, matter-of-fact response. We believe him.
Meg Ryan, America’s Sweetheart, emotes her role so well with facial features, ticks, quirks, and charm. She really is a physical actress—overreacts to things, throws her arms up, twirls, punches, and pushes her whole self into a reaction. And when she is listening to something sad or touching, you see the emotion, what she is thinking. Her face squiggles up, head tilts, and her eyes tear up or dart—as if she is taking it all in for the first time and talking back with her expressions before she can get the words out.
Perfect for Valentine’s Day
When Harry Met Sally… will be on the big screen at Aurora Cineplex this February 14 at 7:00 p.m.
Happy Valentine’s Day, and enjoy the trilogy!
Britt Argo, an avid movie fan for 30 years, sees an average of 150 movies a year in movie theaters. She is the marketing coordinator at Area 51: Aurora Cineplex and The Fringe Miniature Golf—5100 Commerce Parkway in Roswell. 770-518-0977.