In a large cinematic canon of films exploring long sprawling love stories, 'When Harry Met Sally...' still stands out from the rest, even 30 years on. Perhaps it’s the wonderful performances from its leads, Billy Crystal (‘Monsters University’) and Meg Ryan ('You've Got Mail'), playing the titular Harry and Sally as their paths intersect over a 12-year period. Maybe it’s the wholesome interludes, recounting real-life love stories of elderly couples. Or maybe it’s the film's refreshing take on the age-old question: "can a man and a woman be friends?"
The answer this film gives is... kind of?
What I appreciate about 'When Harry Met Sally...' is how open the lead characters are with each other. There's no game-playing, no underlying intentions. This is just two characters who, even before they inevitably fall for each other, simply and deeply care for one another. One of the film's best moments takes place moments after Harry and Sally argue over their exes, throwing truthful but harmful barbs at one another. Realising their friendship is more important than the argument, Harry quickly pulls Sally in for a hug.
Perhaps the reason the chemistry between Harry and Sally feels so authentic is exactly because of their delayed romance. Instead of rushing into bed together or only being interested in each other when the relationship is romantically viable, Harry and Sally get years of friendship to learn about each other and, through each other, the opposite sex. Where other films that attempt this (such as 'The Ugly Truth') seem to pat themselves on the back for dropping hot truths and observations on how men and women operate, 'When Harry Met Sally...' is full of conversations that one could easily see a man and a woman having in real life (such real-life conversations are also indebted to the film through its coining of such phrases as "high maintenance").
Despite the main theme of this film being sex, the film itself does not feature any, and arguably is all the better for it. Rather than the act itself, the film concerns itself with the politics surrounding male and female sexuality, how they work together and how they can differ. I’m super grateful for a film like this that, even in the late 80s, was telling women that it was okay to be demanding and accept their own quirks which some might deem as flaws. Sally’s friends pressure her to move on from a broken relationship, despite the fact that she is still very much needing time to heal, with the concern of a ticking clock on their minds. Sally subscribes to this notion to a degree, but not to the point where she feels like a submissive, cliché-ridden female lead. Similarly, Harry bends the expectations of what a male romantic lead should be. While he initially begins as a typical sex-driven character, his divorce turns him into a man not afraid to discuss his feelings and bares his soul to Sally. The comfort he gets from confiding in his best friend about the storm of emotions his wife’s betrayal has left him in shows men that it’s okay to open up.
'When Harry Met Sally...' doesn’t feel dated in the way that a film released 30 years ago might.
Not only does the film act like a textbook on friendship and romance, it is also incredibly funny. Watching Harry and Sally’s attempt to set up their best friends (Carrie Fisher, the ‘Star Wars’ series, and Bruno Kirby, ‘City Slickers’) with each other backfire spectacularly is among the films funniest moments, along with the four-way phone call scene, which took 61 takes to get perfect. Of course, it would be remiss to not touch on that famous scene in Katz's Delicatessen, arguably the scene by which this film will always be remembered. I can’t imagine how men watching that scene in a theatre for the first time would have felt.
Despite the remarkably different landscapes of dating in the 80s versus the 2010s, 'When Harry Met Sally...' doesn’t feel dated in the way that a film released 30 years ago might - which speaks to not only to how enjoyable it is, but to how integral it is to making sense of friendship and love. The charm this film has is still palpable, rightfully earning its cultural spot as one of the sweetest, funniest, most enjoyable romantic comedies.