When Nora Ephron died in 2012, much of the outpouring of affection centred around this movie, which was one of the (many) on my “should’ve watched but hadn’t (yet)” list. Having attempted, and failed, to watch the second Indiana Jones movie, I was in need of a ‘palate cleanser’, something not too deep but still with a bit of character about it, and I settled on this. What a good choice!
The film opens with a shot of an elderly couple reminiscing on how they met and fell in love, this scene being repeated for different couples in great variations of circumstances throughout the film, leading to an inevitable final scene.
The plot of the film opens in 1977, as Sally (Meg Ryan) gives a lift to the boyfriend, Harry (Billy Crystal), of her best friend at University in Chicago all the way to New York. They take an immediate dislike to one another, Sally being a little uptight and ultra-organised and Harry being, let’s face it, an obnoxious slob. They part on 5th Avenue, having agreed that they can’t be friends, largely because Harry insists that men cannot be friends with any woman they find attractive.
The film returns to the pair at intervals of years as they meet up, initially when at least one of them is in a relationship and, slowly, they do become friends. As their friendship deepens it becomes obvious to us, if not to them, that they are certain to become lovers (though, if this were a French film, this would be far from certain) but there is lots of fun on the way.
There are many things to like about this film – the way the film takes its time, both in its chronology and in terms of plot, the friendships each of them has and recurring characters who also develop. There is also the fact that the film is not afraid to show each of the leads changing as they grow older – and misremembering their past.
I’m not entirely convinced by the acting chops of the stars – Billy Crystal is funny but doesn’t have a great range of emotion and Meg Ryan looks nice and sweet but isn’t that great an actor either – but this would be nitpicking as the film doesn’t really demand that great a range or intensity of acting ability. It requires, and gets, a light touch from two (mostly) likeable leads who deliver the right balance of chemistry to ‘sell’ their growing friendship and love.
(oh, and yes the scene of the fake orgasm in Katz’s Deli is very funny – but, to be honest, I’ve seen that scene many times before, and I was more distracted by looking at a place I visited last year than at Meg’s big scene)