For much of the 1970s and 1980s, Woody Allen was the filmmaker most associated with New York-based love stories, having chronicled such Manhattanite couples as Alvy Singer and Annie Hall, and Danny Rose and Tina Vitale. But 30 years ago, on July 12, 1989, a new pair of Big Apple lovers stole moviegoers’ hearts: Harry Burns and Sally Albright. Not that the duo — played by Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan — are romantically involved at the start of When Harry Met Sally, the now-classic romantic comedy written by Nora Ephron and directed by Rob Reiner. Instead, the arc of the movie follows their 12-year-and-three-month journey from strangers to friends to happily ever after.
Speaking with Yahoo Entertainment last year, Reiner revealed that Harry and Sally’s story was based on his own, after a fashion. “This came out of my own experience of being single for 10 years after having been married for 10 years,” he says. “[I was] trying out how to be with the opposite sex. Could you be friends and, if you are, did sex get in the way? All those things were things I was thinking about.” (Watch our video interview above.)
And, of course, he was also thinking about Allen. “Clearly he was an influence,” Reiner says, noting his own passion for the director’s movies, as well as the choice of New York for When Harry Met Sally’s setting. Reviews at the time pointed out the connection as well. Writing in The New York Times critic Caryn James unflatteringly described Reiner and Ephron’s film as “the sitcom version of a Woody Allen film, full of amusing lines and scenes, all infused with an uncomfortable sense of deja vu.”
Thirty years later, time has proven much kinder to Harry and Sally than it has to Allen, whose off-camera life now casts a long shadow over his filmography in the public eye. When Harry Met Sally, on the other hand, is still seen as a seminal step forward in the rom-com genre in the way it depicts how deep friendship can evolve into passionate romance. “At the end, they find love,” Reiner notes. “[With] Woody Allen, there’s this dysfunctional thing and it doesn’t work.” We’ll have what he’s having.
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