1989: The Year of Meg and Michelle

My buddy Paul over at Pfeiffer Pfilms and Meg Movies and I are back with our first dual post in a few years (where did the time go??). Once again, we’re joining forces—or pforces, if you will—to do what we love to do most: wax rhapsodic over the enormous talents and jaw-dropping sex appeal of a couple of acting goddesses, Michelle Pfeiffer and Meg Ryan.

This time we’re zeroing in on a very specific and very fruitful year for Meg and Michelle. In 1989 both actresses were garnering the most acclaim yet in their young careers. Michelle’s first movie was in 1980; Meg’s was in 1981. They had each spent the eighties building towards great things, and by 1989 their talents would be on full display for the world to see, thanks to two of the most important movies of their careers. For Meg, it was the role of Sally Albright in Rob Reiner’s hit romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally… which launched her into stardom. For Michelle, it was playing Susie Diamond in Steve Kloves’s critically acclaimed romantic dramedy The Fabulous Baker Boys. An argument can definitely be made that these are the defining roles of their careers.

Paul and I talked about the magical parallels between Meg and Michelle in 1989, how much we love their performances as Sally and Susie, and how they each delivered memorably sexy scenes that have become part of the fabric of movie history. In fact, we started by discussing that last one because it’s just too good to wait for later.

Michael: Let’s get the most salacious aspect of our love for Meg and Michelle in 1989 out of the way first, and that’s just how absurdly sexy each woman was in their respective films that year. Let’s start with Meg. I was just fourteen in 1989 when these movies came out, so Meg’s “I’ll have what she’s having” orgasm scene in Katz’s Delicatessen—a very real place that I had been to once already at that time—has been permanently imprinted in my brain ever since. I think that happened to everyone who saw it. I know Sally is faking the orgasm to prove a point (and embarrass Harry) but Meg sure does a convincing job of imitating being in the throes of ecstasy, doesn’t she? She is so great here—yes, this scene made me think lascivious thoughts about Meg for the first time, but I also marveled at how brilliant she is from a comedic standpoint. The scene is hilarious! That’s the reason why it remains so iconic. Comedy can be sexy, and few have ever been sexier than Meg moaning and writhing and shouting “Yes! Yes!! YES!!!” Meg has always been called cute, it seems, but I think people sleep on her hotness in When Harry Met Sally…. What do you think, Paul. (I’m pretty sure I already know what you think.)

Paul: Michael, I don’t remember exactly when or how I came to watch When Harry Met Sally… for the first time, I do remember how thoroughly I was hypnotised by Meg Ryan and the scene you’ve written about so beautifully. Like you, and millions of other people around the world, I was absolutely smitten. Meg’s moment in Katz’s Deli is sexy, it goes beyond having fun, it goes beyond good acting. It has an intangible quality that I can’t quite put my finger on. It’s a magic that has shone throughout the years. I know Meg became known as The Queen of Romantic Comedy, but I still think people don’t appreciate just how exceptional she was.

Michael: Then there’s Michelle, as Susie, performing the show-stopping, New Year’s Eve number “Makin’ Whoopee” while seductively perched atop the piano as Jack Baker (Jeff Bridges) tickles the ivories and gets as turned on as the rest of us by Susie’s sultry vocals and how sensational she looks in that red-hot dress. Like Meg’s moment at Katz Deli, Michelle in this scene is simply iconic.I realize I’m biased here, but I truly think a case can be made that it’s the hottest moment in movie history. I’ve watched The Fabulous Baker Boys countless times over the years and Michelle in this scene never fails to raise my temperature considerably. She makes standing and writhing on a piano seem normal! Like anyone could do it. But no one could do it and look as sexy as she does while doing it! Plus, when she steps down off the piano towards the end of the song, remember she’s doing that in high heels! That’s dangerous! She makes it look effortless. Is it any wonder this woman was able to display such nimble, catlike grace three years later as Catwoman in Batman Returns? No, it’s not!

Paul: After waxing rhapsodic over Meg in When Harry Met Sally… I can safely say I feel just as strongly about Michelle in The Fabulous Baker Boys. La Pfeiffer was so sensual, so strong, so talented, so, so beautiful. Even after all these years, I still get all hot and bothered when I witness sexy Susie Diamond, in that dress, atop Jack Baker’s piano. Pfeiffer is electric in this scene, bringing a sensuality to the moment, as Jack and Susie are one, together up on that stage for that one night. Michael, again I’m in full agreement with you, there have been few things in the history of cinema sexier than Michelle as she smoulders her way through a rendition of “Makin’ Whoopee.”

Michael: Meg’s performance is just so pitch-perfect, both comedically and dramatically. Besides the deli scene, another standout moment is when she looks off camera at Rob Reiner as Billy Crystal improvs the “too much pepper on my paprikas” bit. She was genuinely caught off guard and her reaction is still perfectly in line with how Sally would respond. It’s a magical moment for me. She’s absolutely outstanding. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say Meg Ryan gave one of the best performances of 1989. Speaking of best performances of 1989…

Was anyone better that year than Michelle? I know the Academy said Jessica Tandy was, but they were wrong. Susie Diamond is a force of nature and Michelle dominates every second she’s onscreen. She’s feisty and funny, equally adept at comedy and drama, just like Meg that year. She has some terrific zingers—“Frank, to you ‘Feelings’ may be goddamn filet mignon, but to me, it’s parsley. It’s less than parsley”—and when things get serious, or hot and heavy as they do during the makeout scene with Jeff Bridges, she’s positively electrifying. 

Paul: In When Harry Met Sally… Meg seems to be having the time of her life. She’s just so appealing, so funny, and so interesting. She’s so good it’s amazing to think she had never appeared in a romantic comedy before. As you point out, her gestures, line readings and reactions are pitch-perfect. Her whole performance is an exhilarating exhibition of effortless acting and a testament to her talent. Leaving Pfeiffer aside, in my book Meg was head and shoulders above most of 89’s Oscar nominees and would have been a worthy winner.

Was Pfeiffer better than Ryan? I really couldn’t choose. Although as a couple I do prefer Susie and Jack to Harry and Sally. There’s something compelling about the way those two connect on screen, especially when they’re making music. Getting lost in the chemistry between Michelle and Jeff always makes me wonder if Susie Diamond and Jack Baker end up together, but that’s one of the things that sets these two films apart: The Fabulous Baker Boys is bittersweet, When Harry Met Sally… delivers the happy ending its genre demands.

Michael: Beautifully said, Paul. Discussing Meg and Michelle in ‘89 has been on our wishlist for a while, so I’m glad we finally got around to it! Until the next dual review, stay pfabulous, my pfriend.

One thought on “1989: The Year of Meg and Michelle

  1. It’s pfabulous to finally see the published post, I like your choice of pictures, and I still haven’t got over seeing that header image for the first time… that is so hot it should come with a warning!

    Liked by 1 person

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