Get Your Reps In: “When Harry Met Sally...” Isn’t a Just Romantic Comedy Touchstone. It’s a Singular Achievement.

What to see at Portland’s repertory theaters.

When Harry Met Sally (Columbia Pictures / Everett Collection)

When Harry Met Sally… (1989)

Fans of the ‘90s and ‘00s rom-com boom are often quick to cite When Harry Met Sally… as the genre’s first modern touchstone. But with nearly 35 years of hindsight, the Nora Ephron-penned, Rob Reiner-directed classic pairing Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal increasingly seems like a singular achievement.

It’s as witty as the Cary Grant-Rosalind Russell screwball comedies it reveres and more technically accomplished than its decades of imitators; the film has a truer sense of how time and friendship transform would-be lovers than the more premise-driven films even Ephron herself would later direct (Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail).

Perhaps the movie’s most enjoyable quality on rewatch is how every scene operates based on idiosyncratic sketch comedy logic wherein the scene itself must entertain through detail (while moving Harry and Sally closer to their happily ever after). That’s how you get Carrie Fisher and Bruno Kirby arguing about wagon-wheel coffee tables, Sally being hopeless at Pictionary, and Harry recalling the “Don’t Fuck With Mr. Zero” T-shirt worn by a mover his ex-wife once hired.

That quality is mirrored in the interviews with elderly couples that dot the film. Lasting love is only broad when summarized. In practice, it’s an accumulation of details. Academy, Nov. 15-17.


5th Avenue: Nowhere (1997), Nov. 17-19. Academy: Touch of Evil (1958), Nov. 15 and 16. Chicken Run (2000), Nov. 17-22. Hardcore (1979), Nov. 18-22. Cinema 21: Baby Face (1933), Nov. 18. Cinemagic: Face/Off (1997), Nov. 16. The Fly (1986), Nov. 17, 18 and 22. Possessor (2020), Nov. 17 and 18. A History of Violence (2005), Nov. 19 and 21. Infinity Pool (2023, uncut), Nov. 18-20. Clinton: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 (2012), Nov. 20. Hollywood: Night of the Living Dead (1968), Nov. 17-19. ParaNorman (2012), Nov. 19. The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999), Nov. 20. Death Race 2000 (1975), Nov. 21.

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