Greetings again from the darkness. In 1989, Rob Reiner’s WHEN HARRY MET SALLY hit theatres, and many described it as an updated/contemporary version of Woody Allen’s 1977 classic ANNIE HALL. It’s been 26 years since Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan debated whether guys and girls could be “just” friends, and now writer/director Leslye Headland shows us that same debate continues to this day.
Jason Sudekis (“Saturday Night Live”, Horrible Bosses) stars as Jake, and Alison Brie (“Mad Men”, “Community”) stars as Lainey. These two characters meet in college and promptly lose their virginity to each other. (It takes a little imagination to accept these two thirty-somethings as college kids) Twelve years later, they meet again by happenstance at a meeting for sex addicts. It turns out, Jake’s biggest phobia is related to commitment, and he’s a womanizer who has mastered the break-up (yep, he slept with your sister). Lainey’s issue is commitment as well, only it’s her misplaced commitment to a married doctor (Adam Scott) instead of her boyfriend (Adam Brody) that causes problems.
Jake and Lainey quickly pick up their legendary (in their own mind) repartee, and it becomes a friendship comprised of rapid-fire one-liners. Yes, I used the F word to describe their relationship. To protect their platonic bond, they go to the extreme of creating a safe word as an admission/warning if one is feeling overly amorous towards the other … it’s like a fire hose to extinguish any thoughts not related to being a good buddy.
While Sudekis and Brie are both talented and likeable, it’s the outdated pop culture references that create such an out-of-place feeling for the viewer. How many thirty-somethings these days reference Bobby Fischer, Anne Sullivan and Madame Butterfly during conversation? And the “Pontiac Aztec” line may be the best line in the movie, but how likely is it to resonate with most audience members? There is certainly no shortage of dialogue committed to laughs, but so much of it seems out of step with the young adults it’s clearly targeting.
The obvious comparisons/tributes to WHEN HARRY MET SALLY come in the form of the split screen during a text conversation (in contrast to Harry and Sally’s phone chats), and the uncomfortable scene featuring a glass tea bottle is the answer to Sally’s infamous diner scene. What’s lacking is the intellect and heart so prevalent in the 1989 film. It may be contemporary, but it’s missing any subtlety or nuance. Perhaps that’s the influence of Producers Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, both who specialize in laughs over nuance.
Additional support work is provided by Amanda Peet, as Jake’s boss and love interest; and Jason Mantzoukas and Andrea Savage, the married couple trying hard to help while delivering the film’s best and funniest scenes (the closing credits – wow!). Also contributing are Natasha Lyonne, Margarita Levieva, and Katherine Waterston (as the doctor’s wife).
Though they deliver some easy laughs (a good thing), if this movie and Amy Schumer’s recent TRAINWRECK are accurate social observations of the times, it’s difficult to have much hope for modern day relationships (not really a funny thing).