Very seldom do I stray into the realm of romantic comedies. I have nothing against them, but as a red-bearded human being with an awkward disposition and little hopes of ever attracting a mate, despite how handsome my mother claims I am, I just find the stories to exist on the periphery of my reality. It feels disingenuous to offer my thoughts on situations that are out of my area of knowledgeability, yet, after an emphatic recommendation from a trusted source that, in retrospect could just be one of the many voices in my head, I have decided to sell out my principals and force-feed you my opinions on one anyways! Open up because here comes the airplane!
“When Harry Met Sally” is a film that has existed since the late 80s, and to date, is the oldest film that I have chosen to give a full review to. Before I watched it yesterday, my only impression of this movie was just the famous “I’ll have what she’s having” scene where Sally loudly fakes an orgasm in a diner to prove just to prove a point to Harry. And while that moment is legendary, for a film to still have legs 30 years after its release, it has to present more than just a story with just one scene that could easily get lost among the myriad of other films of the genre. And what makes this film last the test of time is because it is a film that asks a question that I am sure we have all had to entertain at one point or another: Can men and women really be actual friends? Go ahead and ask all of your friends, and I am sure you will hear a multitude of reasonings for why or why not.
Allow me to be pretentious for a moment. Eleanor Roosevelt once said “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people” and while I am about 63% sure she was not referring to filmmaking when she said that, I believe the message is transferable to film as well. Romantic comedies that discuss specific people in a relationship or two people that met at a New Year’s Eve party are a dime a dozen. Films like that are so narrowly focused on their tale that there is nothing beyond the film to think about. “When Harry Met Sally” is about an idea that is relatable to almost every person and that each person watching can have a slightly different take on due to their own experiences.
Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal play the title characters, and aside from their respective best friends, Marie (Carrie Fisher) and Jess (Bruno Kirby), essentially no one else in the film says or does anything. The reason this works is that the dialogue is so poignant and crisp between each character as they present their own ever-growing philosophy on love. Sally, on the surface, is a positive person, but after watching the totality of her character, I would say she is more of a cautious optimist type, perhaps using her positivity as a defense mechanism about her own insecurity about finding the right person. Harry is a cynical man who thinks he has life and love figured out from the moment he is introduced as a new college graduate. He has all these rules about men and women and how they are all looking for one thing, despite what they might actually tell each other. As they mature, they meet each other again at varying points in their respective love lives and a unique relationship develops that tests Harry’s thesis that men and women cannot be friends because one will always be thinking about sex with the other.
Having such an intimate story with so few characters means the film relies heavily on the chemistry between actors to sell believable relationships. Sally and Harry are genuine from start to finish. They have conflicting personalities when they first meet and as a result, they actually do not like each other for a few years. With their changing experiences and heartbreaks, they both soften towards each other and develop a real friendship that is realistic, understanding that they actually have far more in common than their younger selves would let themselves realize. It is the ever-changing nature of their dynamic that gives the film its life.
As the story presents itself as a social experiment of sorts, it is only natural that we as an audience perform the same action as a thought experiment. How many of us genuinely have friends of the opposite sex that we look for companionship from and sex is never a factor? From experience, I have several but I also vicariously see that many of my friends have difficulty doing the same. I can only conclude that this is the case because we are all different, and despite what a young Harry is so sure he knows, not everyone seeks the same things out of every relationship. But, to his credit, he was right about communication and honesty is key when establishing relationships of that nature, and too often we are either not honest with each other or ourselves about what we are looking for. However, this is just my take on the matter, and I am willing to bet that your own experiences will give you an altered view on the question, just as Harry and Sally have different ways of looking at it at different stages of their own lives.
If you are not a fan of Romantic Comedies, this next part is for you. I will not pretend that everyone who watches this movie will love it, but I do believe that everyone who watches it should acknowledge its quality. It is a genre film that may not be widely appealing to everyone, and that is ok. Having tastes that differ from one another does not mean that a movie that appeals to someone else but not you is a bad film. You may not like a vegetable but that does not make them bad food. As a narrative and a discussion of an idea, the film does its job well, and undoubtedly has its charm, even if it is not meant for you.
I give “When Harry Met Sally” a thoughtful 8.6 out of 10
Directed by: Rob Reiner
Starring: Meg Ryan, Billy Crystal, Carrie Fisher, Bruno Kirby
Runtime: 1 Hour and 35 Minutes