When Harry Met Sally (1989)


I hesitate to start each of these write ups with “I liked this movie” or “this movie was hilariously terrible.”  It doesn’t really matter what I think, but no one’s reading this so maybe it only matters what I think.

I liked this movie.

Billy Crystal plays Harry and Meg Ryan plays Sally.  They have great onscreen chemistry, and the characters they play feel familiar, partly because I think many movies and tv shows have borrowed their character types: the sardonic, lazy male and the uptight, neat female.

Those, of course, are simplifications of each character, perhaps a bit unfair, but that’s also what other movies seem to have taken from this one.

Harry and Sally first meet in 1977, on a long road trip shared from Chicago to New York.  They then meet again in 1982 – Harry is engaged while Sally is in a brand new relationship with Joe, a blond-haired pairing rivaled only by Jaime and Cersei Lannister.

Finally, another 5 years pass when Harry and Sally meet again.  Harry is now divorced and Sally is single as well.  They have coffee and become friends.

We stay with them for the next year, bookmarked by two New Year’s parties.  In this year they bond, but only as friends.  Each of them has a best friend character who they decide to set up with the other.  Instead, the two best friends fall for each other and move in very quickly.  It’s just another sign from the universe that Harry and Sally are meant to be together.

Now, I’m not a big believer in fate or people meant for each other, but it doesn’t matter.  The story treats this with some levity.  Everyone tells them they should be together, something along the lines of “so you like her, you’re attracted to her, and you spend all your time together.”  But Harry and Sally won’t budge, even as we can see the doubt creeping into their heads.

Writer Nora Ephron and director Rob Reiner aren’t too heavy-handed, conveying a belief in the divine or “true love.”  It’s basically this – Harry and Sally get along and should get together because it just makes sense.  It’s not truly special or magical or anything, it’s just the way it is.  The other characters put this to them rather bluntly.

There’s a great scene when the best friend characters get married and Harry and Sally are the best man and maid of honor.  Jess, the groom and Harry’s best friend, gives a speech in which he says “here’s to Harry and Sally.  If we found either one of them remotely attractive, we wouldn’t be here” referring to the failed but not so failed blind date Harry and Sally organized.  This scene makes them the butt of the joke and nothing special.  They’re just another pair of people.

In a way, Harry and Sally put too much emphasis on their own relationship by refusing to be together.  By saying over and over “it’s not like that” they’re elevating their own relationship, putting it on a pedestal and over-complicating it.  Jess and Marie (Sally’s best friend) are much more matter of fact about their own relationship; they are the antithesis.  Framed in another way, Harry and Sally are the antithesis of Jess and Marie.

In the end, as I’m sure you know, they get together.  They do so on the night of the second of the New Year’s Eve parties, at the end of the year or so that they’ve known each other since they “met” the third time.

I’m young and dumb, probably.  So watching this movie was great for me to see people doing dumb but human things at ages older than mine.  It’s comforting.

I also enjoyed watching them change throughout the years.  I like watching things change over time, like the changing of the seasons.  You see the same place, same person, same location, but there’s just enough of a difference to see what’s grown.

Most romantic comedies focus on youth and people at one point in their life.  They meet, get along, hate each other and then realize they love each other.  Then they ride off into the sunset with promise that it’ll work forever.

In these more traditional rom-coms, the relationship is like a growing wave form, fluctuating between good and bad and increasing in strength so that the “bads” at the beginning might be superficial but at the end they’re much more severe like “you lied to me about __________.”  There’s always a lie.  Okay, there’s often a lie.

But if you look at the chart of a relationship wave and it’s fluctuating, growing steeper and steeper until the movie ends, then if you were asked to draw the rest of the graph, you’d imagine it would continue to grow and fluctuate, running hot and cold.  But a good, long-term relationship is steady.  That’s what Harry Met Sally is… it’s steady.

And like most movies, the characters have to confront something within themselves that is getting in the way of the relationship.  In many movies it’s something deceitful, like lying about your apparent gender (Mrs. DoubtfireTootsieJuwanna Mann) or lying about your sexual preference (I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry) or just not being upfront and honest in a less zany kind of way.

In Harry Met Sally, however, there is no deceit, just people acting like people.  They each have differing world-views on the male-female friendship and its viability.  These come into conflict when they finally sleep together, something they both admit was a mistake, though Sally does so with less conviction.

The end of the movie unfolds in typical rom-com fashion, though it does so well.  We get the famous “I love that you get cold when it’s 71 degrees out” speech Harry delivers to Sally, and it feels earned.

My one comment is that, coupling up Harry and Sally in the end is a bit pessimistic towards the film’s central question: Can men and women just be friends?

Everything points to them being great friends.  They have a wonderfully healthy friendship, going to museums and farmers markets and conducting healthy debates about each others’ lives.  My friends and I mostly talk about tv and sports.

But then Harry and Sally end up together, and we’re led to believe everything until then was because they’re in love.  Men and women can’t be friends.  If you’re good friends with someone of the opposite sex, it’s because you simply haven’t fallen in love yet.  So just wait.

Personally, for what it’s worth, I think men and women can be friends.  Again, since no one else is reading this, what I think is worth a lot.  If other people do read this, then it’s worth nothing.

The remainder of this review will be about me debating my own self worth.

I hate to quote a song lyric, but The Head and The Heart released their third album recently and one line from the song “Library Magic” keeps getting stuck in my head:

“The best advice we ever received/ Is for you and me to stay here together/ It’s easier to begin and hard to end/ I’m just glad to go through it all with you as a friend”





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