It was cheesy anyway.
There it is again– in a brief biography of Nora Ephron at the New York Times– a reference to the allegedly memorable “fake orgasm” scene in “When Harry Met Sally”.
At least the Times has the good taste to describe it merely as “probably best remembered”. I am thankful for small things. You have probably heard, many, many times, that this scene, in which Sally tries to prove to Harry that women can convincingly fake orgasms, is the funniest scene in the movie, and, maybe, the funniest comic bit ever filmed.
It’s not true. It’s not really very funny at all. Rob Reiner, who directed it, kept asking Meg Ryan to do it over and over again, bigger and broader each time, until it was what you saw in the film: a ridiculously over-the-top caricature of actual humour, perfectly adapted to the talents of Jerry Lewis or Jim Carrey.
If it ever was funny, it’s not funny by the the time Reiner has had his way. It’s not funny. It would have been more amusing if it hadn’t been ridiculous. And the allegedly funny riposte by the woman at the next table– Rob Reiner’s mom– is poorly delivered by –Rob Reiner’s mom. “I’ll have what she’s having.” Do you need to ask why she was chosen to deliver this funny line? Yes, it is a good line. It’s a hint: that scene could have been very funny.
The truth is, that scene would have been much, much funnier if Ryan had made the grunting and moaning and yelping believable, and the camera could have picked up Harry suddenly realizing an unpleasant truth that had been hidden from him for years and years. You might also have seen a few faces at nearby tables, mildly aghast, or befuddled.
The point was lost: if that is what a “fake” orgasm sounded like, nobody would ever have been fooled. Reiner destroyed the funniest element of the scene. The best comedy is revelatory– that could have been a brilliant moment for the film, but Rob Reiner trashed it. He slapped custard pie all over it and made into something feeble and crass. He made it into something you love to quote around the water cooler but really isn’t that funny as you are watching it.
I imagine a richly imagined, subtle, teasing rendition– with that intimation of resistance and the loosing of reserve and the building intensity, all while Harry — in recognition– signals increasing anxiety. Maybe, at the end, he is incredulous: “That was fake?”
Come on– that’s funnier.
Then, a real actress does the line: “I’ll have what she’s having..”
What Rob Reiner did to that famous scene is what Gary Marshall (“Happy Days”) did to Fonzie: you like that “EEEEHHHH!”? You do? I’ll do it again. And again. And again. And again. Ten times an episode. No, twenty, thirty… no forty times! And at every public appearance. And on every talk show. And ….
What? You’re sick of it already?
Incidentally, “You’ve Got Mail”, also written (and directed) by Ephron, was also about as bad as “Happy Days” in it’s worst moments, monumental in it’s simple disregard for any kind of plausibility or psychological insight.
More recently, “Julie & Julia” was moderately amusing, enlivened, as it was, by Meryl Streep’s performance.
All right– you want a really funny scene: rent “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” and watch for the scene at the airline car rental counter with Steve Martin and a brilliant Edie McClurg. Yes, it’s rude, but it’s more inventive and original than the fake orgasm scene because McClurg sounds close to believable as the clerk. You recognize the attitude, the manners, the “I don’t think I like the way you’re talking to me sir.”
I would have loved to hear her do the line in “When Harry Met Sally”: “I’ll have what she’s having”.
It would have been funny.