When Harry Met Sally… (1989)

whenharry2“Men and women can never really be friends”

When Harry Met Sally…what happened? Well, the first time in 1977 they spend an indubitably long car ride together. Whether or not it’s true, this debate about men, women, and friendship is the driving force behind their choppy relationship over the next decade or so. Back then it began with arguments over Casablanca and late night conflicts at a diner when Harry makes a pass. Good thing they’ll never see each other again. That’s what they think.

5 years later we’re in an airport. It doesn’t seem like much but Harry bumps into an acquaintance he knows, and surprise, surprise Sally ends up being his girl. They don’t give much notice to each other, that is until they end up on the same flight together. Once more they continue the friendly argument they began back in college, although he is now a political consultant and she is a journalist or something. Harry has become more lenient on his hard and fast rule, but they leave each other ready to get together with their significant others. A friendship between the two of them now seems so inconsequential.

But 5 years later role by again and Sally is still unmarried. Things didn’t quite work out and her best friends are hoping to help her move on. Then, she spies none other than Harry Burns in a bookstore and they strike up their quinquennial convo once more. This is a defining moment as they finally decide to become friends. It seems with the passing years they’ve lost a little bit of their idealism and pigheadedness respectively. When you have experienced romance and lost you are more apt for compromise. The passage of time changes people too. So it goes with Harry and Sally.

whenharry3Now they have late night chats as they lie in bed listlessly or they grab a bite to eat at the local deli. In that perceived transitional period of loneliness, they find comfort and companionship. They discover what a platonic relationship can be without sex. Except much of their time is still spent talking about love and sex. Harry and Sally are so preoccupied with such topics they probably don’t even see what’s happening to them.

Ultimately a blind date they set up with each other’s best friends fails abysmally, but their best friends hit it off instantly. Bruno Kirby and Carrie Fisher end up making a stellar combination, both exhibiting wonderful personality paired with wit. They make believable best friend material. But during their wedding, Harry and Sally’s friendship goes down the tubes and looks to be finished. It’s in the interim leading up to New Year’s Eve that Harry realizes what is happening inside of him. It took umpteen years, but Harry and Sally finally fall in love! At the end of the film, they fittingly receive their own cutscene like the various old married couples who share their fairytale romances interspersed through the entire film.

whenharry5Bob Reiner’s When Harry Met Sally… works unequivocably because, in many ways, it helped define many of the unspoken rules of the rom-com following the mold of Woody Allen’s Annie Hall. Overall, the addition of Harry Connick Jr.’s music gives the film a jazzy feel rather reminiscent of Allen’s work. In fact, it does feel like Reiner emulates Allen and in this case, mimicry is the highest form of flattery. Meanwhile, Nora Ephron’s script is often inventive, creating future cliches rather than falling into old ones. To his credit, Billy Crystal is able to play his role with sincerity and sarcasm when necessary, while Meg Ryan is full of a feisty vim and vigor in her own right.

Perhaps most importantly the film speaks to topics of romance and sex. Sex is not a commodity to be bartered with, but then again it cannot be wholly bad if humans are constantly desiring it. In there lies a mystery. There must be a context in which sex actually means something more than just being a simple act. Perhaps when love comes first. That’s what makes what Harry and Sally have so special. True, it’s marriage, but really it’s a lifelong friendship. That’s what it’s meant to be — the closest bond you’re ever going to have with another person. 

4/5 Stars

Donnie Brasco (1997)

220px-Donnie_brasco_ver2In the tradition of such films as Serpico, Goodfellas, and even The Departed, Donnie Brasco is another worthy addition to the gangster canon. You have a necessary mainstay in Al Pacino, playing the veteran and streetwise hit man Lefty. He’s been around and is claimed to have 26 “whacks” to his name. One fateful day he took Donnie under his wing and the two became real pals. Better than that they were family and Lefty vouched for Donnie, bringing him into his life and his business. It’s just that his business revolves being a member of one of the mob families.

The story is twofold, however, because Donnie Brasco’s real name is Joe Pisone, and he is an undercover agent for the FBI. However, in order to do his job he has to be gone for months on end. He checks in and has a tape recorder on his person, but for all intent and purposes, he is a member of the mob. They think he’s one of them which Pistone’s superiors are delighted about, but he also begins to relate to them and see himself pulled into their reality.

Long months away from his wife and kids do not help their marriage or his family life. Whenever he drops in their life, he’s cold and detached. His wife expects something more. She wants her husband back, but all he has for her is a fiery temper courtesy of the crowd he hangs out with now.

He follows their crowd from New York, down to Florida trying to get a cut of the land there, but after getting ousted by the cops, they must head dejectedly back to New York. Several times Joe almost gets his cover blown, but even more perturbing he stops checking in with his superiors. His wife is bearing the toll of his absence and tries to content herself with thoughts of him being dead. It’s easier to take.

Meanwhile, young hopeful Sonny (Michael Madsen), with the help of his cronies, knocks off his rival and things are looking up for the whole lot of them. Donnie knows however that there will come a point where he will be pulled out and that will be the end of it. He tries to give his new found friend and confidante Lefty a way out. He offers money to his pal, in a last-ditch effort to get the vet to leave this life behind. Instead, they follow through with the hit that they’re supposed to.

The irony of this story is that Joe Pisone gets a medal and a $500 check for his services to his country. He spent however many months and years in this high tension, high-stress environment and that’s what he gets. You can see him scoffing at it. His marriage is essentially shot to hell. He lost one of the best friends he had and that’s the end of it.

It’s great having Al Pacino in this film because he along with Robert De Niro will always embody the gangster to me. Except instead of playing the steely Michael Corleone, he’s the more world wearied type. Bruno Kirby sounded so much like Joe Pesci that it was almost uncanny to me. And it was a pleasure to see Johnny Depp in such a role since he is so often remembered for his quirkier roles. Here he truly seems to show his dramatic acting chops, and the camaraderie between him and Pacino is palpable in their scenes.

4/5 Stars