Thursday, May 3, 2007

Harry Burns is an alright dude

When Harry Met Sall DVD coverI am a music guy. Everyone who knows me knows this. I do have it in me to be a movie guy too, given the right guidance from people who understand my tastes. This especially applies to humor: I like my humor dry (i.e. Leslie Nielsen), intelligent (Woody Alan), occasionally over-the-top or offensive (Andrew Dice Clay), and if it's British it's probably good too (recently saw Hot Fuzz and it got my thumbs-up).

I've typically avoided romantic comedies over the years, even though I have been described as a romantic person. Go figure. I guess my relationship with romantic comedies as been akin to my take on sports -- I'd rather be participating than watching, given the choice. But having been recently exposed to Swingers, Annie Hall, Tootsie, and most recently, When Harry Met Sally, I think my tune has changed.

Would you believe I actually enjoy these films? And no, it's not just because I really like the girl who's showing them to me (which I do). I really, truly enjoy them, and would enjoy them if any of my film-centric guy friends sat me down to watch them too.

When Harry Met Sally, in particular, was a very hyped-up film in '89, one that even those who never saw it will remember. Meg Ryan's famous orgasm scene was repeated all over TV ad naseum back in the day. I had enough of that one scene to feel like I never needed to see the film. Ever. Probably the only aspect of it that left me open to someday giving it a chance was the fact that Harry Connick, Jr. did such a tasteful job with the soundtrack.

Yet, the experiences which accompany the passage of time seem to have softened my attitude. In 1989, when this film was released, I was 11 years old. The big film I was into that year was Batman. I was satisfied with ogling Kim Bassinger, dazzled by the action scenes, got a great kick out of Jack Nicholson's portrayal of the Joker, and of course, I dug Prince's music (my one complaint was that Prince's music wasn't nearly as prominent as I hoped it would be). Romance really wasn't on my mind. Even when it was, it was in a state of frustration over not getting any, so I didn't need any visual entertainment to rub it in. At least with music, the words could fade into sound and just become a part of the melody or harmony. With film, it was a bit more complicated.

So the years of frustration have been behind me for enough time now that I was finally ready for When Harry Met Sally. And it was strange... like two versions of me watching it at the same time. For example... when Sally (Meg Ryan) complains to Marie (Carrie Fisher) that the guy she offered to set her up with was the same guy she set her up with 6 years prior (and any other mention of forgetting something that occurred), I was simultaneously thinking, "this is what happens to grown adults who are so busy -- they forget" and "how could something like that be forgotten so easily?" It was as if my brain was giving me a "bonus commentary" DVD track in two channels -- one of the current me who lives and understands the rigors of adult life, and the other of the old me whose mind was still untouched by wear and tear, priding itself on a sharp memory and often forgetting that not everybody else's brain worked that way.

Then there was the whole premise of the film -- the question of whether men and women can be friends. I think I've spent a good chunk of my life proving that to be true, though I must admit I've had a few would-be Sallys in my life. I say would-be because I never had the guts or the nerve or the social skills or the chemistry wasn't strong enough for a full romance to flower from said situations, and that really bugged me for a long time. I didn't need to see someone else's happy ending when mine were always so anticlimactic. So coming at it from my own experiences, I would have had a hard time empathizing with the characters and watching with an objectively critical eye. Not so anymore.

In fact, I found myself watching in horror as Harry (Billy Crystal) gets himself ready to leave so quickly after waking up from his unplanned romp with Sally, thinking to myself, "he's doing the very thing he knows Sally hates so much about him -- hasn't he learned anything?? He's about to drive her away!!" I think 10 years ago or so, I might have laughed at that scene. I would see it and know what's going to happen next, and hope that maybe there would be a tragic ending where Sally is so depressed over having Harry take off so quickly while she's already mourning a failed relationship that she OD's on painkillers and chokes on her own vomit. Which in turn would cause Harry to head off on his own tailspin and maybe end up as a cranky, misogynistic vagrant who spits at every woman who passes by except for young skinny blondes, which would make him cry. The sole piece of compassion to soften the blow of such an off-the-wall, depressing ending would be his old pal Jess (Bruno Kirby) passing him by, taking him in, and starting a novel with him to get him back on his feet and ultimately have some sort of redemption through art by making his point that not only can men and women not be friends, he has lived the consequences of messing with the idea.

But no, I'm a good boy at heart and I want to see everyone happy. And I couldn't have been happier to see Harry and Sally finally getting past their endless interpersonal roadblocks and uniting in long-delayed, blissful love. Fuck yeah! Brainy, semi-neurotic dudes with average looks *can* snag hot chicks!

Yup, that much I can identify with now too.

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