Can men and women be just friends? That’s a question that’s been asked since, I suppose, the beginning of time, although I’m not really sure. Romantic comedies generally center around two people who are supposed to be together, but something causes a rift to prevent that from happening. Sometimes it’s a bully of sort, sometimes a partner is already in a relationship with someone else or, in the case of When Harry Met Sally, the partners are so clueless that they don’t realize they are right for each other. So, how does this iconic film remain relevant thirty years later? What are some differences between When Harry Met Sally and the other countless romantic comedies, and can men and women be friends without sex becoming an issue?
Love is hard to find, dating can be complicated and yet we all strive to find that special someone. We spend so much of our time trying to figure out who would be the best match that we don’t take the time to just stop thinking and start acting. We won’t find that perfect person, but we can find someone who might be our equal. When Harry Met Sally is a wonderful romantic comedy that centers on the lives on its two titled characters and how they see relationships, love and ultimately how different men and women think.
Harry (Billy Crystal) is a man who knows what he wants. He’ll go out with a woman, have sex with her and move on. In his mind, he believes that men and women can’t possibly be friends because sex would always be an issue. He has no women friends (that we see) and when he meets Sally (Meg Ryan), she’s taken aback by his opinions. He’s honest with her and challenges her as well. They both frustrate each other because they don’t think alike and these conversations make the movie an absolute blast. Both are open with each other, don’t lie and have an understanding that sex will never happen between them. Hell, Harry and Sally don’t even consider themselves friends for nearly half the film as they run into each over the course of several years.
We all have friends we talk about relationships with, whether we’re just seeking advice, want to vent or simply communicate what we have to say. It’s interesting because I have friends who’ve asked me for advice, which is rather ironic, because I don’t date myself. Yes, I’m one of those oddballs in life who doesn’t put myself out there. As one friend told me, “you’re like a mediator. You don’t take sides and it’s easy to talk to you.” I like to talk, much like Harry does, but I never go out to play the game.
Now, I know that I’m not like Harry. I do believe that men and women can be friends as I have many female friends and sex has never come up between us. It’s nice to have a friendship and an understanding, because who wants to go through the awkward moments? I like to say that a lasting friendship is far better than a temporary relationship. As the movie progresses, Harry and Sally do become friends and that grows very positively. I don’t want to reveal too much information in the event you haven’t seen this film.
One of the great things about When Harry Met Sally is the script by Nora Ephron. It’s so fluid, hilarious and raises some important questions as well. I was always under the impression that when a couple breaks up, they take some time off and go back to the playing field when ready. I had never heard of the term “transitional man” until Sally mentioned it. Sort of like a person you go out with to make you forget about the breakup, getting your mind off that person and onto someone else. Truth be told, the more I read about dating, relationships and all those pesky signs to watch out for, the more I realize that this whole dating thing is quite complicated. There is so much work to do!
This is also one of those romantic comedies that avoids the popular cliché of someone coming in-between the couple and being the reason they aren’t together. Harry and Sally aren’t together because they don’t want to be! They each have these complicated mindsets that, when two finally become a couple, it nearly derails everything. Having a guy’s night out can be a lot of fun, but sometimes it always good to talk to a woman about things you wouldn’t tell your guy friends.
Another great scene in the movie, besides the memorable Katz Deli fake orgasm moment, is when Sally’s friend Marie (the late Carrie Fisher) pulls out a rolodex of men’s names for Sally to date. I wonder if women have things like this. Sure, a rolodex is out of style and maybe even that little black book, but I’m really curious to know if women have a list of potential “good guys” that their ladies can call for a date. I remember when I first watched this film, which was suggested by a female friend of mine, and felt that I learned quite a lot.
As a man, we may not be all the same, but we surely know what other men are thinking about. The things Harry says do have merit, and listening to Sally reminds me of women that I know. I’ve noticed that friends of mine will go on many dates and yet still feel unhappy. I’m not sure what they are looking for but, as someone told me once, “dating is not about sex. Dating is a chance to learn about yourself, the person you’re with and the boundaries of you both.” Dating should be a chance to bring happiness to both parties, but both of you must be on the same page because ,if you’re not, feelings will be hurt and memories of that person may not be fondly remembered. This is something that we see in When Harry Met Sally.
Released in 1989, When Harry Met Sally intrigued audiences mostly by word of mouth and became a box office success, not to mention one of the most memorable romantic comedies ever. Today’s movies can’t hold a candle to this one simply because they take the cheap route of nasty humor and characters too stupid to be taken seriously. There are the occasional good ones, but this movie is a real treat and taught me a lot about relationships. How men and women think differently, what it means to be in love with someone and the frustrations of the dating game.
When Harry Met Sally also has a fascinating backstory which I urge you to look into. From the witty script, excellent performances and chemistry from Ryan and Crystal and fine direction from Rob Reiner, this romantic comedy is pure gold. As mentioned earlier, romantic comedies of today are there for entertainment and making the audience laugh, When Harry Met Sally makes you think and fully engages its audience. It’s a hell of a time. Like the patron played by Reiner’s mother said in Katz…”I’ll have what she’s having.”