Ah, the ‘I hate you’ to ‘I love you’ trope. Not something that many rom-coms use nowadays, but Nora Ephron was the absolute master of it. In You’ve Got Mail we saw Tom Hanks fall in love with Meg Ryan over email despite being rival bookstore owners. And in When Harry Met Sally, Ryan returns to Ephron’s world to play Sally Albright, armed with excellent hairstyles and Carrie Fisher as her best mate, to fall in love with Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) over the years following their graduation.
1989 might be pushing it a little to call it a “golden oldie” – but When Harry Met Sally… deserves your attention, because however cliche it might sound to say, it’s not like other romcoms. Especially the more modern ones – eat your heart out 27 Dresses (2008).
Harry and Sally don’t get along, making the overnight drive from Chicago to New York more difficult than you might imagine. They disagree on just about everything – from death (Harry always reads the last page of a book just in case he happens to die halfway through reading) to the ending of Casablanca (Sally knows Ilsa was right to get on the plane because who wants to be stuck in Casablanca with a guy who runs a dodgy bar?) But, in the words of ‘As Time Goes By’ from Casablanca – you must remember this; Harry is adamant that men and women cannot be friends because sex will always get in the way.
Okay so he’s not the best feminist in cinematic history. But here’s the thing – for a man who doesn’t believe in love and tries so hard to act tough and unappealing (he spits the stones out of grapes ew), he makes an effort with Sally. Because over the years, their hatred blossoms into friendship – albeit quite an interesting one given some of the conversations that take place in restaurants…
Because that’s what When Harry Met Sally… is really about – fate and the opportunity for people to change over time.
Whilst the film spans multiple years, these are divided by short interviews with elderly couples, all about how fate pulled them apart and brought them back together again. Because that’s what When Harry Met Sally… is really about – fate and the opportunity for people to change over time. Someone you met five years ago, implies Ephron’s screenplay, probably isn’t the same person now that you knew back then. Even Harry tries to make amendments to his original rule to fall into Sally’s favour (I’m paraphrasing here but he says something like ‘if both parties have partners then the rule is cancelled out and they can be friends’).
If we’re going to go full film student into this, then I need to mention the settings as well. A lot of When Harry Met Sally… is set over autumn, Christmas and the New Year, all times associated with new beginnings. And yes, they do play “Autumn in New York”, because how could they not? They’re falling for each other. Sorry not sorry.
They’ve pretty much nailed the whole soundtrack to reflect this, actually. A piano arrangement of Frank Sinatra’s ‘It Had to Be You’ plays over the opening credits, during the film itself, and Sinatra’s voice kicks in for the final scene of the film. It’s really the best way to epitomise their relationship; ‘I wandered around and finally found the somebody who /
Could make me be true, could make me feel blue / And even be glad just to be sad thinkin’ of you.” It might not sound like the most romantic thing in the world to be sad thinking about someone, but there’s something incredibly nostalgic and heartwarming about two people finally accepting their feelings. Like those mates you know both like each other, but both of them are scared to make the first move.
In short – good vibes all round. And during a literal pandemic, I think that’s something we could do with a bit more of. And it’s on Netflix – so there’s no excuse.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to go buy Meg Ryan’s wardrobe from this whole film. Especially that jumper and those glasses – I’m a ginger that doesn’t cope well in the summer, after all.
Last modified: 28th July 2020