Little known fact about me. I love romantic comedies. I also hate poorly made movies. I’m bothered by flimsy narratives, bland chemistry, unnatural dialogue, unearned connection and low stakes. I very much don’t think two people should be together purely because they’re both attractive. It may sound like I don’t like romantic comedies after all, but I certainly do. It’s about finding the right ones.
I’m not gonna get a medal for saying When Harry Met Sally is great. It’s the genre’s worst kept secret. It turns out that in real life, relationships often come together after years of friendship. That the aspects you look for in a partner emulate those you want in a friend: Emotional honesty, an ability to bring effortless joy into the most mundane of activities, caring about your struggles, because their happiness swells when yours does. Much as the logline of men and women can’t be friends because sex gets in the way is a relic of times gone past, the film holds up incredibly well. Firstly, let’s look at what could be better.
Times have changed and the whole binary Men/Women:Mars/Venus mentality is all too outdated. The film deals in constant generalisations that simply don’t hold weight. Now, the strength of this movie is that it doesn’t get bogged down by it. As the characters grow, they mature. Their core tenets remain, but their emotional aptitude and ability to empathise ages with them. They do see the failings of prior values and course correct. Both characters were immature in their 20s (Harry more so, but the point still stands). By the end of the film, Harry has reached a place where Sally’s emotional distress is enough for him to put aside his feelings for her and simply give her the comfort he knows she needs. The fact that it ended up being the catalyst for them getting together is irrelevant. That wasn’t why he was there, which is the important part.
All those sticking points with romantic comedies that I mentioned back at the start? This movie does a tremendous job of sidestepping them. The narrative isn’t convoluted or overly simplistic. It’s well constructed and weaves the years without getting bogged down with unnecessary detail. The film covers 12 years in just over an hour and a half and none of it feels rushed or slow. The chemistry is palpable, built off numerous encounters that grow to a solid connection. The fights they have and obstacles they face aren’t clumsy or shoehorned, their reactions are congruent with their personalities. We’ve all had those will they/won’t they friends where the window never comes, right? Where it seems bizarre that nothing has ever happened between you? The thing I love about Harry and Sally’s burgeoning relationship is that at the start, they wouldn’t have been right for each other. They needed to evolve in order to come to a place where it made sense. If it didn’t, they probably wouldn’t have.
Most of all though, it’s well written. The dialogue is fantastic and even now rings true. The two leads inhabit the characters in a way that feels lived in. They obviously did a bunch of work together re-working the script to make it seem natural. There are more than a handful of line reads and shots that tear me up. Harry’s front porch apology, the shot where they’re both slow dancing at New Years and realise the depth of their feelings, the “I love/I hate” monologues when they actually get together. It’s a wonder what great writing can do, embodied by actors who get it. The film has such a salient beating heart that it’s impossible not to feel it resonate in your own.
If you like romantic comedies and haven’t seen it, give it a watch. If you haven’t seen it in years, give it a watch. If you think you don’t like romantic comedies, I challenge you, give it a watch.
Maybe you like them after all, you just don’t like shitty movies.