Film & TV Film Reviews Muse

Your Valentine's Day film: When Harry Met Sally...

Martin Kirsch recommends a look at an enduring romantic classic

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Image: Columbia Pictures

N.B. This article may contains spoilers.

Revisiting old films that seem almost outrageously outdated is always interesting, although it is sometimes questionable whether they depict something that ever existed. One way to watch them is to ridicule their outdated technology, fashion, and attitudes. A more interesting way is watching something that is seemingly outdated in these respects, but still feels relevant to our contemporary way of life. When Harry Met Sally... belongs to the latter category. It lacks texting, tinder, and stereotypes, except for the ones it establishes on its own. Featuring snappy dialogue, publicly faked orgasms, and apartments in Manhattan no one could afford today, it is a joy to watch.

The film's heart and authenticity make it the classic of the romantic-comedy genre, and so a perfect fit for Valentine's Day, despite the somewhat generic stereotypes. Two awkwardly neurotic yet lovely and relatable people navigate themselves through the difficulties of dating life. They meet, dislike each other, but then realise that they have been in love with one another all along. A solid third of the film sets both characters up by showing their life with three short fragments over a period of 12 years. Harry (Billy Crystal) and Sally (Meg Ryan) first meet for a long drive from Chicago to New York. He is a deeply nihilistic know-it-all, she plans every aspect of her life and requires a whole minute for ordering a sandwich. In short, the road trip introduces them as two people as unsuitable as possible.

Image: Columbia Pictures

Throughout this journey they exchange their worldviews and philosophies, forcing them to reveal their characters. This culminates in a remark by Harry that men and women cannot be friends with each other without sex getting in the way, while Sally refutes this. As they get older and mature, their positions, formerly so firmly in place, change. They meet again in their early thirties, struggling with the collateral damage of just finished relationships; they become friends this time.

By taking the time to play around a bit with the characters, and letting them interact non-romantically, their chemistry never feels forced. Their conversations are always prone to taking a surprising turn, or showing something mundane in an interesting way. Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan engage so naturally with each other that one would like them to conduct a weekly podcast, discussing everything from relationships to the proper way of ordering a salad.

What we can take from this is that men and women not only can be, but also should be friends, that every successful relationship builds on the personal interest people have in one another. That mutual respect, despite extreme differences, can be maintained. Rob Reiner's film shows something we all want and that is yet so hard to get: a modern relationship. It is one built on genuine maturity and reflection, not silly plot twists. It also has what most rom-coms ironically lack: heart.

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