When Schmaltz Met Serendipity…

If you’re the type of person who doesn’t like romantic comedies, When Harry Met Sally… is probably the romantic comedy for you. The story of two New Yorkers who meet cute not once, not twice, but three times, become friends, have sex sour the friendship, only to have a grand gesture by the scorned man result in the couple’s marriage. As a cynical, disappointed romantic, is it any wonder I love When Harry Met Sally…?But then my thoughts turn to Frankie and Johnny. I don’t remember how this film was received at the time of its release, but it’s not as warmly remembered as When Harry Met Sally… which surprises me. Gary Marshall showed with Pretty Woman that he could find heart and humour in the unlikeliest of places, and he did it again with a moonstruck short-order cook (Al Pacino), a reticent waitress (Michelle Pfeiffer) and a Greek coffee shop that houses its own Greek chorus.
It’s not the most obvious romantic comedy of its time, in fact, coming out the year after Pretty Woman, it was almost behind its time in its 70s look and feel. But that’s one of the reasons I like it. Every character, seem fully realised and believable. I care about them all, especially Frankie and Johnny.In terms of plot these films seem nothing particularly special: one man, one woman, and, it would appear, one inevitable outcome. But while there are some obvious outward comparisons, the two films are actually poles apart. Frankie and Johhny is above all a romantic film, whereas When Harry Met Sally… is a romantic comedy.Frankie and Johnny had a better pedigree, primarily due to the presence of Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer as its eponymous couple. When Harry Met Sally… had Meg Ryan, who up until then was best known as Goose’s wife in Top Gun.Billy Crystal’s Harry and Meg Ryan’s Sally establish their chemistry right out of the blocks and the zingers they exchange during the course of the movie cement their bond. He is cynical but vulnerable, she is sensible but independent. The movie’s cultural resonance can be summed up by pondering the innumerable conversations raised by the question: can men and women be just friends.Surprisingly when watching Rob Reiner’s film I don’t want Ryan and Crystal’s characters to stay together, nor do I feel the same sincerity as in Pacino and Pfeiffer’s on-screen relationship. When Harry Met Sally… has more big laughs, Frankie and Johnny is a more moving, poignant tale worthy of remembrance.Even without Harry Connick Jr. to shed a poetic silver beam on its title, Frankie and Johnny shines. What other film ends with a couple cleaning their teeth?

When Harry Met Sally… or Frankie and Johnny? Any thoughts?



Filed under Retrospective