There is an age-old question regarding whether single men and women can be just friends. In real life the answer is obviously “yes,” but in movies and TV the answer always has to be that at some point two single characters will get attracted to each other and move beyond friendship. On TV I find this to be contrived and overused, but some movies can have a lot of fun with the concept, most notably Rob Reiner’s comedy classic When Harry Met Sally…(1989). It may not change your view on love and friendship, but it forever changed the meaning of the phrase “I’ll have what she’s having.”
On paper this film’s premise sounds like another rom-com, but seen by oneself during an evening of Netflix binging it does make you think about deep stuff like the long-term impact of your decisions on your life. A person you meet during a tense trip might turn up again sometime later down the road in the most unexpected ways. If there is one thing I believe in it is infinite possibilities, and Nora Ephron’s script posits the possibility that Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) and Sally Albright (Meg Ryan) could randomly bump into each other over the years always denying they should be more than friends.
When Harry, just like the title says, meets Sally it doesn’t look as though these two have much of a future. It is 1977 and they are both university graduates who have decided to share a ride to New York City where like many people they are hoping to start their careers. Naturally to pass the time they start having conversations, mainly about relationships since Harry is dating a friend of Sally’s. The conversations take a sour turn when Harry posits it is impossible for men and women to be friends because sex always gets in the way. This leads to an argument that has them part ways with no desire to see each other again once they get to the Big Apple.
That would be the end of that, except five years later they bump into each other again at an airport. A very plausible coincidence, but it seems fate is pushing them together since Sally is also dating Harry’s neighbour. Another five years later, and this time it is an encounter at a coffee shop where they end up tallying their previous relationships, which all ended badly. This leads Harry to formally propose they become the exception to his rule and become best friends. Obviously, this is where things get juicy.
If Harry and Sally were of the same sex, no one would bat an eye at their relationship. However their respective best friends (Bruno Kirby and the late great Carrie Fisher) notice that these two are practically dating without the sex. You could argue they are being intimate since they have intimate phone conversations at night, have dinner together, and tell each other everything.
Harry even gets to hear Sally orgasm, or at least pretend to, when he posits yet another theory: that women can’t fake it in bed. To rebuke him, Sally is not shy about convincingly pretending to climax in a diner full of customers, leading the lady next to her to ask the waiter to serve whatever Sally is having. The best part: said lady is Estelle Reiner, the director’s own mom.
The ending of When Harry Met Sally…is of course fairly predictable and has inspired quite a few other romantic comedies since then, but it is scenes like the one described above that makes it stand above the crowded field. Then there are the two leads who are both well-rounded characters portrayed by Crystal and Ryan at the top of their game. For a certain generation Crystal is a one-eyed monster from a Pixar movie, but for others he is a terrific romantic lead delivering some great lines written by Nora Ephron, whose career featured many other successful screenplays.
This may be a romantic comedy with a predicable plot, but it is also one of those rare films you are still thinking about days after seeing it, and possibly quoting it years later.