In 1977, college graduates Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) and Sally Albright (Meg Ryan) share a car ride from Chicago to New York, during which they argue about whether men and women can ever truly be strictly platonic friends. They part ways in New York, but over the course of the next ten years, their paths continue to cross until a friendship finally blossoms and they attempt to maintain the most satisfying “non”-relationship either has ever had without sex getting in the way.
I absolutely adored When Harry Met Sally from beginning to end. The writing, the directing, the acting. Autumn and Christmas in New York. More than once!
Ryan takes what could have been an annoyingly, tightly wound character in Sally and creates a remarkably endearing tightly wound character instead. Initially, her eternal optimism and quirks get under Harry’s skin, but over time, he comes to love them, just as we do.
Where Sally is sunshine, Harry himself is a darker individual, hyper and pessimistic. He’s the one who is convinced that men and women cannot be friends without sex getting in the way, whereas Sally believes otherwise. Throughout most of the movie, you cannot help but wonder who is right in that regard. Because Sally and Harry essentially become best friends. They date other people, but they’re always there for each other. Their relationship remains strictly platonic in a sense, and yet… aren’t they really in love? They just don’t seem to know it yet. Or perhaps they do, but they’re not willing to accept that life-changing fact.
The “opposites attract” trope is a successful one, but boy, do you need the right characters, and actors, to pull it off. Ryan and Crystal’s chemistry is insanely strong. It helps that Harry and Sally as characters are fully fleshed out. They are flawed. They are both charming and confident at times, frustrating and insecure at others. They feel real, and that’s the mark of a really good romantic comedy.
I rooted for the ending I received, but honest to god truth, I would have been okay with it if they had remained friends, it was just that good. As a bonus, along the way we get to see their best friends Marie (Carrie Fisher) and Jess (Bruno Kirby) fall in love and deal with their own relationship problems, which provides its own brand of comic relief in the midst of Sally and Harry’s angst.
One of my favorite parts of the movie is the occasional break where older couples are interviewed and tell us how they met and knew they had found the one. The couples may be portrayed by actors, but the stories themselves are true and I am not ashamed to admit I cried through all of them.
When Harry Met Sally continues to be the standard by which so many modern rom-coms are graded, and it’s disappointing how few even come close.