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christina

I can watch When Harry Met Sally over and over again. My favorite bit is the fight (between Carrie Fisher and Bruno Kirby) over the wagon wheel coffee table. Now that was genuis.

I once analyzed Annie Hall and decided it was a Pygmalion story. Now I can't remember why.

French Kiss is another one of my favorite rom coms. The A story is Meg Ryan's character pursuing a love that got away and Kevin Kline's character helping her until they fall in love with each other.

E.C. Henry

You sold me on "When Harry Meet Sally" Billy. Had a ho-hum opinion of the film, but after reading your book, writing in the genre myself, and annalyzing what Rob Reiner, Nora Ephron and crew did in this film. I now like it.

Still not the biggest Billy Crystall fan, but I've always loved Meg Ryan.

Never really broke down films to know why what makes one memorable and what makes others fail. I look for "magic." The what is it about this film that TRANSENDS it about the normal riff-raff. I'm of the mindset that truely special films are unique, different, and leave the viewership scratching their head in wonderment, "Wow, where'd that come from." I think that overannalyzing the clasics, from writers especially, leads to unoriginality and conformitdy. Why do what's already been done?

BUT I do love a good story like you and others, AND I respect those who have been at for a while and are considered masters of the trade.

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA

Write Procrastinator

As "Seinfeld" was one of the last great sitcoms, "When Harry" is one of the last great rom-coms.

Besides the great dialogue, great situations, great use of life's ugly realities (like the discomfort of not hitting it off and running into exes), it had perfect dialogue exchanges.

Both the male and female actors had balance, won and lost points, and the banter was perfect in terms of pacing.

I really haven't seen a picture since then that can match it in terms of back and forth banter, maybe "Something's Got To Give" which I loved more for it's balance, than as a movie overall.

mernitman

Christina, that wagon wheel is priceless. And Annie Hall IS a Pygmalion story (with Allen as the unlikely Professor Higgins). And French Kiss is... a hoot.

WritePro: balance, yes -- which you only get when BOTH lead characters are fully formed and compelling (something many a rom-com forgets, see Elizabethtown, etc.)...

chesher cat

The two things that make the fake orgasm scene brilliant are the public place (courtesy of Meg Ryan) and the "I'll have what she's having" line (courtesy of Billy Crystal).

Nora Ephron should have cast them in Bewitched.

Duncan

One of my favorite scenes too. :)

Daniel W.

Billy, I love the andirons, Billy Crystal’s reaction, and Meg’s smirk as she puts that last forkful of food in her mouth, but I think Estelle’s line is essential to the audience’s full enjoyment of the scene. All of the stuff before her line is a build-up, the tension increasing faster and faster until the last line allows the audience to have their own nervous release.

I’ve been in theaters where comedic sequences ended limply, and the result is an uncomfortable reaction of laughter that ebbs, flows, and fizzles without ever reaching the point of laughter the audience wants to go to. Ending a scene on something as strong as “I’ll have what she’s having” allows for the laughter to erupt from the audience.

Thinking back on some of my favorite comedy bits, they all end on the strongest image or line of the piece. In Some Like It Hot, the twin dates progress on the boat and on the land, getting more and more absurd, until the final image where “Daphne” dips Osgood in front of the blindfolded Cuban band… and then it’s next morning, and the dates are over. In It Happened One Night, Clark Gable goes through a series of increasingly ridiculous attempts to hitch a ride, and it’s all very funny, but the end comes with the best joke of the sequence as Claudette Colbert shows some of her leg and suddenly the wheels of a car are shown screeching to a halt.

Or consider a classic piece of comedy: the pie fight. Pies fly fast and furious, but the one person that the audience most wants to see nailed (think Tony Curtis in The Great Race) remains untouched right up until the last pie hits that person hardest of all. If Curtis had been drenched in custard at the beginning of the pie fight, there’d be no way end to the scene and no way for the audience to know when they can finally let go and laugh.

If there hadn’t been such a strong ending to the deli scene in When Harry Met Sally, I don’t think it would have been as effective. In fact, I think we’d be a little uncomfortable watching the scene, with the thought of “did I just see sweet Meg Ryan fake an orgasm” holding back some of our laughter. Estelle’s topper is a joke that releases all of that uncomfortable feeling from us.

All this means for me, of course, is that in my own script I’m going to have to rewrite that f---ing shooting range scene again to put the premature ejaculation joke at the end.

Sorry about the length of this post.

alisa kwitney

The great thing about When Harry Met Sally, IMO, is that aside from the orgasm, nothing is faked. None of the comic business is forced in just to jolly things up, and nothing romantic is slapped together because now is when hero and heroine ought to get together. The movie allows for a fair bit of angst and darkness and betrayal. These days, only the indies seem to recall that romcom can be dark -- the last film I saw that really moved me was Dirty, Filthy Love, about an OCD hero.

Simon Young

Thanks Billy for these last two posts - and for your blog generally. I'm writing my first screenplay, a rom-com, and loving the very specific advice you give.

Many thanks. I'm going to add Harry and Sally to my "must watch" list now.

mernitman

Welcome, Duncan!

Daniel W, nice comment, couldn't agree with you more; as I always tell my comedy screenwriting students: leave no gag un-topped.

That the deli-orgasm topper is its biggest, climactic laugh is the given, here. My analysis is simply saying, yes, that's the great line everyone remembers, but let's look for a moment at all the canny good work that leads up to it.

Very true, Alicia. And now I have to go get Dirty and Filthy...

Welcome, Simon! Glad to be of service.

shecanfilmit

Thank you for acknowledging that Annie Hall is a Pygmalion story. I have gotten in many arguments and near fights over that claim.

JJ

Maybe that's the problem with the RomComs coming out today. They seem to be about the paycheck.

MaryAn

You are my hero. Okay, no you're not, but you would be if I actually believed in heros.

mernitman

SheCan, send 'em to me and I'll put up my dukes.

Sad but true, JJ...

And to cop a JJ-ism in answering MaryAn, I say: Um... (looks at shoes, blushing).

Ann Wesley Hardin

Was out blog hopping this morning and found this older post through MaryAn's blog.

Wow! Thanks for giving us this. It'll really help me take my romcoms to the next level. Absolutely brilliant.

One thing I'd like to add (even though I know no one but you will read it) is the utter brilliance of having a 60-something woman deliver the "I'll have what she's having" line. If a twenty-year-old babe had said it...meh. But coming from a woman you KNOW HASN'T had what she's having for a very long time is one of the things that catapulted that scene into the legendary.

Again, great post, and wonderful comments!

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