‘When Harry Met Sally…’: The greatest romantic comedy of all time

Parker Otto

Romantic comedies often get a bad reputation and are often seen as low brow films with subpar humor and forgettable characters. However, there are several rom-coms that are clever and entertaining, including “Grease,” “Annie Hall” and, just in time for its 30th anniversary, “When Harry Met Sally…”

The film follows the complicated relationship of Harry Burns, played by Billy Crystal, and Sally Albright, played by Meg Ryan, who go from hating to loving each other over the course of time. This plotline is nothing new as it has been done to death even going back to Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing.” What makes it different is that this progression isn’t made in the span of a week but in 12 years.

When Harry and Sally first meet each other, Sally is taking Harry along with her to New York City from Chicago as a favor to her best friend, Harry’s girlfriend. The two are polar opposites, with Harry being laid back and sarcastic and Sally being high maintenance and sincere. When Sally mistakes Harry saying she’s attractive as a “come on,” she says they can only be friends. This leads to Harry saying, “Men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.”

Over the next decade, they meet each other by sheer coincidence. The first time they meet is at an airport when Harry is engaged and Sally has a wonderful relationship with Harry’s neighbor Joe, played by Steven Ford. They once again part on poor terms as Harry still stands by his statement on friendship with the opposite sex. Finally, they meet five years later when both of their relationships have imploded, leaving them to become friends and, ultimately, find love in each other.

The interactions between the two leads is what gives the film its power. The screenplay by Nora Ephron, who also wrote and directed the films “Sleepless in Seattle” and “Julie and Julia,” is poignant and leads to both heartbreaking and hilarious dialogue. Harry’s impashioned final speech in which he professes his love to Sally is pure magic as he explains that the qualities of Sally that drive him crazy are also what he loves about her.

The comedy aspect of the film reaches its climax, pun intended, when Harry and Sally eat at a diner and discuss sex. Sally informs Harry how women are capable of faking orgasms and then demonstrates this in the restaurant with many people staring in confusion. When it’s all over, a female customer, played by the director Rob Reiner’s mother Estelle Reiner, says, “I’ll have what she’s having.”

The film has a very small cast to put much attention on the main couple, but there are two supporting characters that occasionally steal the spotlight. They are Sally’s best friend Marie and Harry’s best friend Jess, played by Carrie Fisher and Bruno Kirby, who fall in love after Marie is set up with Harry and Jess with Sally on a blind double date. Seeing their interactions is just as enjoyable as Harry and Sally’s, especially Carrie Fisher, whose performance reminds the world how Hollywood won’t be the same after her passing in 2016.

Ultimately, “When Harry Met Sally…” is a film that is as honest as possible. It doesn’t try to fool anyone with common cliches, including a horrible boyfriend or current pop songs that will be irrelevant in five years. Instead, the film offers just two people falling in love. While that premise may seem boring at first, add unforgettable lines and a duo whose chemistry makes the viewer really believe in true love, and the world’s best romantic comedy is born.