When Harry Met Sally was released in July 1989. Thirty years later, Nora Ephron’s script remains timeless, littered with zingy, quotable one-liners and heartfelt speeches. This is a film that set a precedent for a generation of subsequent rom-coms.
In one of the film’s most famous moments, Harry (Billy Crystal) lists everything he loves about Sally (Meg Ryan) in a climactic outpouring: “I love that you get cold when it’s 71 degrees out. I love that it takes you an hour and a half to order a sandwich. I love that you get a little crinkle above your nose when you’re looking at me like I’m nuts. I love that after I spend the day with you, I can still smell your perfume on my clothes. And I love that you are the last person I want to talk to before I go to sleep at night…”
Well, almost everything – there’s five things in total. So, fittingly, here are five things I love about When Harry Met Sally.
The fake orgasm scene (obviously)
For a mainstream movie from the 1980s, When Harry Met Sally has a surprisingly progressive attitude to sex, particularly female sexuality. It’s not perfect (it was made in the 80s, after all), but it’s better than a lot of its peers – and some more recent films, too – and this can almost entirely be attributed to Ephron’s razor sharp writing. Later in the film, Sally exclaims: “I just didn’t want to sleep with you, and you had to write it off as a character flaw instead of dealing with the possibility that it might have something to do with you.” How often do we get to hear fictional women, circa 1989, articulate their feelings towards sex in such a concise and mature way?
Only Meg Ryan could pull off knee-length shorts and knee-high socks without looking like a Boy Scout. Sally’s blazer collection? Excellent. The extensive range of knitwear throughout the film? Fantastic. Sally’s green velvet dress that she wears to Marie (Carrie Fisher) and Jess’ (Bruno Kirby) wedding? Phenomenal. On a side note, however, the decor in the characters’ homes is appalling – how can Sally judge Marie and Jess’ wagon wheel coffee table when her own curtains look like that.
Central Park in the autumn and winter, golden then snow-covered, serves as the backdrop for a story that evolves with the seasons. NYC feels like a central part of the story. This is the kind of film that Woody Allen thinks he makes, but could never.
As real as a film where people live alone in spacious apartments in New York City can feel, anyway (perhaps the line of dialogue that ages the film most is when Harry asks, “What’s so hard about finding an apartment?”). Because this is not love at first sight, it’s love at millionth-and-one sight. It’s love that evolves from friendship, maturity, and growth. Surely, that’s the purest form of romance – someone who has been your best friend has seen you at your worst. Harry and Sally have seen each other at their worst and they love each other regardless: in spite of it and because of it. As an audience, we can believe it.
We see Harry and Sally in snippets throughout the twelve years of the film. The details are not in their lives – sure, Sally is a journalist, but for which publications? What does she write about? What does Harry actually do? How do these people fund their fantastic knitwear collections? We never really find out, but it doesn’t matter. The details are in these characters’ interactions and their relationship. One of my favourite scenes is when the two of them are in their separate beds watching Casablanca together over the phone. It’s these small, intimate moments that are the most romantic. There are no grand gestures – the closest we get to that is Harry’s climactic speech, but that still only occurs to an audience of one; the rest of the party carries on, counting down to the new year, oblivious. Harry and Sally do not need an audience.
But thirty years later, they’ve still got one, and for good reason.