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30 Years Since ‘When Harry Met Sally’: Can Men and Women Ever be Friends?

When Harry Met Sally

I love that When Harry Met Sally was released the year I was born; it feels almost serendipitous considering how much I adore this movie. I realize that by admitting this, I have revealed my age. No matter! I wholeheartedly embrace my almost-30 status.

I have only watched this movie twice before, which is hard to believe, because it is so damn good. It is easy to see why Meg Ryan became the poster girl for romantic movies after this. I am surprised that Billy Crystal hasn’t done more romantic movies. He is probably known most for his Monsters, Inc. voice contribution and his other comedic roles. It is a shame, because he definitely holds his own as a romantic lead.

Here’s Looking at You, Kid

We begin the movie with Harry hitching a ride with Sally to New York, the two of them bickering with each other for most of the journey. This is a typical set-up for any Rom-Com; the lead characters never start out liking each other. They proceed to have a conversation about Casablanca, a movie they discuss later on in the film as well. Sally feels that Ingrid Bergman’s character was right in her decision, because that is the practical choice, while Harry feels that she secretly wanted to stay because of the great sex. It is interesting to see their different perspectives of this. Sally chooses the practical and safe option, while Harry feels great sex drives a relationship.

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Image via IMDb

When they discuss this movie again, through a fantastic split screen scene, we see that they view things differently now. Harry has matured. He got married, and is still reeling from the separation with his wife. Yes he has a lot of casual sex, but it is obvious that the sex is not what he wants. Sally initially chose the practical and safe option, however we see at this point that she left her boyfriend because she wanted more than just practical and safe. She wants a family and a life, and she broke up with him because she didn’t want to compromise.

When Sally finds out that her former beau is getting married despite only being with the woman for a few months, it hits her hard. It is a jarring piece of knowledge, and she is in emotional pieces when Harry comes over. She is emotional and vulnerable, he is a man who finds her attractive. They sleep together. The fall-out comes later when we realize that even though it was Harry who said men and women can’t be friends, that’s what he desperately still wants from Sally. He wants their relationship to remain as it is. She, on the other hand, wants more. She doesn’t want to be the back-up option.

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Image via Bustle

We go back once again to their first responses to Casablanca, and see that they are doing the opposite of what they had initially said. Sally wants to take the riskier choice. She is willing to risk the friendship to see where the relationship can go. Harry wants the safe choice because he doesn’t want to lose her. We can understand where the both of them are coming from. Harry’s choice comes from the fear of having another failed relationship, while Sally just doesn’t want to compromise and is pursuing what she wants.

Narrative Timeline

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Image via Bustle

The structure that the movie sets up is what really adds to the authenticity of these characters eventually ending up together. When they first meet, they don’t really like each other. He finds her attractive, but that is not enough for them to move anywhere in this relationship. Years later they meet again at the airport. She recognizes him, he doesn’t recognize her and actually stops to talk because he recognized the boyfriend. It plays with our expectations, because we assume that he has stopped because of her. Later on we see that he does start to remember her, and we get the discussion of one of the hot button topics in the movie: Men and women can’t be friends because sex always gets in the way.

But they do become friends years later, when they are both still reeling from the failure of their personal relationships. They are able to be friends because neither of them are ready to commit or move on to another relationship. One of the funniest scenes involve Harry and Sally setting up their good friends for each other, with these friends ending up liking each other instead. It is a very nice kind of demonstration that they are actually best suited for each other. We get the little jabs that they make at the man/woman that the other is dating, leaving us just waiting for the moment that things will change between them.

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Image via IMDb

A period of time goes by before they finally end up together, which for me really cements the relationship when it does happen. The last part of the movie involves the both of them telling us that they have gotten married, and I believe it. The movie has allowed me to invest in their relationship, and acknowledge the time that they have invested in each other, which makes the marriage that happens later so much more believable. The main issue with more modern-day romantic comedies is that there isn’t this teasing out of chemistry. The first time they kiss is the scene where they have sex, and the kisses are so well done. You feel the leaning towards something, that they are on the edge of falling towards each other. So much yearning and sexual tension in those kisses! I was literally on the edge of my seat (I might have fallen over as well).

What is Your Love Story?

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The little stories from different couples throughout the movie are a nice touch. It is nice to see the variations in the stories that are told as well. It is a reminder that everyone’s love story is different, and so is Harry and Sally’s. Also, I had no idea Carrie Fisher was in this! I was rather young when I first watched it so I may not have known who she was (Don’t come for me Star Wars fans!). Another thing that separates When Harry met Sally from other mediocre romantic comedies is the fact that the supporting characters (Harry and Sally’s good friends) are properly fleshed out. We get a sensing of who they are, and even their relationship is believable. I found it incredibly sweet that they ended up together. It’s like we got two love stories instead of just the one.

Kudos to Harry Connick Jr. with regard to the music. Even now bits of it is still playing in my head, and it just suits the whole vibe and atmosphere of the movie. All in all, When Harry met Sally is a must see. Fantastic dialogue, well-developed characters, beautiful setting … It’s movies like this that really make you believe in New York as a city where you can fall in love.

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Image via timeout.com

Now that I am at the end, I realize that I failed to mention the fake orgasm scene. God it was hilarious! The fact that she went all out with everyone watching made me laugh out loud. Harry’s reaction was equally priceless. It was definitely a good way for the movie to establish how comfortable they were getting with each other. I bet there were plenty of suspicious boyfriends and husbands after the movie’s release. There is just so much goodness to this movie, which is why it will always be one of my favorite romantic comedies.


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Natasha Alvar

Natasha is an English Literature teacher. She believes that stories are the essence of being human, and loves sharing this world with her students. One day, she hopes to break into the literary world with an offering of her own, but for now, she finds enjoyment in writing plays for her students as well as penning content for Moviebabble. You can follow her @litmysoul on Instagram, if you want.

16 Responses

  1. Here’s to Natasha’s eloquent tribute to cinematic love and the real-life love that inspires it!

  2. I have heard of this film before, but I never saw it. In fact, the first time it ever came to my mind was when I saw the 1989 episode for VH1’s “I Love The ’80s Strikes Back” (a.k.a. the channel’s second go-around with the decade). Just the fact that it was directed by Rob Reiner, who also brought us “This Is Spinal Tap”, “Stand By Me”, “The Princess Bride”, “Misery” and “A Few Good Men”, is an extra reason for me to watch this one of the these days. In conclusion, since you waited until the end to mention the “Fake Orgasm In a Delicatessen” scene, I’ll conclude with an immortal line that’s associated with it and was utter by Rob’s mother Estelle: “I’ll Have What She’s Having”.

  3. Sam Simon says:

    I consider it as one of the best romantic comedies of all time and I really enjoyed your interesting review, thanks!

  4. Jules says:

    As a “When Harry Met Sally” fan, this article has been such a joy to read. I’ve just turned 30 (it’s a great age to be, actually), and this film is such a classic. I agree about Billy Crystal owning all the romantic roles he’s been playing (“Forget Paris” etc). And it was also the first time I discovered Carrie Fisher, given I was around 15-16 when I first saw it on DVD. Lol. Thanks to this movie, I’m now a massive follower of Harry Connick Jr.’s work and jazz musicians as a whole.

    • All the elements just really came together for this gem of a movie 🙂 oh my god you’re 30 too! Haha, I have about a week left in my 20s, though honestly it feels like I have been Benjamin Button-ing it my whole life.

      • Jules says:

        At first, I wasn’t looking forward to it but then it turned out to be such a delight, and I’m about to do a Masters in Film & Media Production 😀 You’ll do fine. Thanks for writing about “When Harry Met Sally”. Such a gem, yes. Billy Crystal was very crushworthy. Lol.

  5. I haven’t seen this film, not surprisingly, lol.

    I think the question is can a woman and man ever not have feelings for each other, no matter how brief it may be (speaking if they’re straight, of course)? I think that’s the correct question rather than can a woman and man ever be just friends? And I honestly don’t think they can ever not have feelings for each other; I feel at some part of their friendship one can develop feelings for the other, even incredibly small or incredibly brief. But it’s the overcoming those feelings for the friendship that makes them able to be friends; it’s kinda like a fever that one has to go through before it goes away. I dunno, does that make sense?

    Apparently, people still visit that restaurant to this day and act out fake orgasms when they go. I’d hate to work there, lol!

    • I like the fever metaphor, and it makes complete sense. I have developed feelings for friends that went away over time. The issue probably is if someone confesses. Then things become weird and the friendship might be lost.

      Oh my! Haha I would visit the place just to gawk at people doing that. Dude, you need to watch at least one romantic comedy. This movie is the best place to start 🙂

    • One day I shall convince you haha. On a side note, I was watching Jennifer Connelly on The Graham Norton show and my god, she is so beautiful! He was showing this commercial she did in Japan when she was younger and my goodness. Paul Bethany is a lucky man!

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