*

 

6.25.2019

When Harry Met Sally... starring Asian Americans!

Film Independent presents a live read of the classic romantic comedy, directed by Randall Park.


Steven Yeun and Maya Erskine (Photo: Getty Images/Film Independent)

The origins of the Netflix romantic comedy Always Be My Maybe, starring Randall Park and Ali Wong, can be directly and indirectly traced to When Harry Met Sally... Park, who also co-wrote and produced Always Be My Maybe, has cited the 1989 Billy Crystal/Meg Ryan rom-com classic as his favorite film.

More directly, in a 2016 New Yorker profile of Wong, the Baby Cobra comedian mentioned that she and Park had always wanted to make a romantic comedy together -- "our version of When Harry Met Sally..." Overhwelming fan reaction to that single line, near the end of a 4000+ word piece, is apparently what got the wheels turning to get Always Be My Maybe written, produced, and dropped into your Netflix queue.

The influence of When Harry Met Sally can be seen all over the blueprints of Always Be My Maybe and dozens of other films in the genre -- a genre that, let's face it, has been traditionally very very white. But what if When Harry Met Sally... had actually starred Asians? What if Harry and Sally, rom-com icons, had been played by Asian American actors? On Sunday, we got a glimpse of what that might look like, and it was amazing.



Elvis Mitchell, Jimmy O. Yang, Liza Lapira, Jae Suh Park, Randall Park, Maya Erskine and Steven Yeun (Photo: Getty Images/Film Independent)

Capping off a season of innovative live programming, Film Independent presented a special once-in-a-lifetime, you-had-to-be-there Live Read of When Harry Met Sally..., guest directed by Randall Park.

Narrated by film luminary Elvis Mitchell, the live reading featured Steven Yeun playing the role of Harry, Maya Erskine in the role of Sally, Jimmy O. Yang playing Jess, Liza Lapira as Marie, and other roles played by Jae Suh Park and Randall Park. The evening was book-ended by live performances of "It Had to Be You" and "Our Love Is Here to Stay" by singing duo Meg & Dia Frampton.

For the uninitiated, When Harry Met Sally... follows the eleven-year relationship between Harry Burns and Sally Albright, who first meet during a contentious car ride from Chicago to New York, then re-connect ten years later, testing the notion of staying friends without sex getting in the way.


When Harry Met Sally

Aside from a hilarious litany of outdated references scattered throughout the screenplay, the jokes are still funny and the story mostly holds up. Re-interpreted by the evening's stellar cast, it was a really fun and fresh way to revisit Nora Ephron's script, whether it was your first time hearing these words or you'd watched and re-watched When Harry Met Sally... dozens of times on Saturday afternoon cable. I particularly enjoyed Yeun and Erskine's emotionally grounded takes on Harry and Sally, which had me rooting for this couple to make it work in a way that Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan never quite could on just charm alone.

And yes, we even got to experience the infamous deli scene. The audience was clearly anticipating it. As soon as Mitchell, acting as narrator, uttered the words, "Interior - Carnegie Delicatessen - Day," the crowd erupted with an extended whoop. And then, Erskine, as Sally, expertly demonstrated how women "fake it." And baby, she really went for it. Meg Ryan would be proud.

By the way, be sure to check out Maya Erskine being totally excellent in my other favorite Asian American romantic comedy of the summer, Plus One, co-written and directed by Jeff Chan. Coincidentally, she stars opposite Jack Quaid, who happens to be the son of Meg Ryan.


Randall Park (Photo: Getty Images/Film Independent)

It was a fun night that delivered on everything it promised. With this script, that lineup of performers, how could it not be a blast? Of course, the alcohol helped. Each cast member walked out on stage holding a glass and/or bottle of something, and the party had clearly started early. Halfway through the read, stumbling over one of his lines, Randall freely admitted that he was drunk, which was, frankly, kind of a adorable.

Here's hoping the future assembles a lot more casts that look like this, and for more than one night only.

Images courtesy of Getty Images and Film Independent.