The best holiday movie has nothing to do with Christmas.
No, I’m not talking about Die Hard. I’m talking about “When Harry Met Sally”. This 1989 romantic comedy is my favorite New Year’s Eve film. It is a fabulous ode to the magical hope of the New Year.
If you haven’t seen the film, you must go and watch it right now.
Based on a story by Nora Ephron, “When Harry Met Sally” is the story of two very different people, Harry (Billy Crystal) and Sally (Meg Ryan), who meet right after college. These strangers drive to New York City together from Northwestern University in Chicago.
They are both moving to the Big Apple to pursue their post-graduate dreams. Their dislike of each other is instant, and the enforced intimacy of the road trip does nothing to improve this. Harry inevitably tries to hit on Sally, and she suggests that they should just be friends.
"What I'm saying is--and this is not a come-on in any way, shape or form--is that men and women can't be friends because the sex part always gets in the way."
This trip is also where Harry shares his categorization of women:
“Harry: There are two kinds of women: high maintenance and low maintenance
Sally: Which one am I?
Harry: You’re the worst kind. You’re high maintenance but you think you’re low maintenance.”
Clearly unable to find common ground, they gladly part ways when they arrive in New York, with Sally calling out,
“Well, have a nice life”.
Five years go by and they meet again by chance, this time at the airport. After five years living in the city Harry is now a political consultant engaged to a woman he seems a bit lukewarm about, and Sally is a magazine writer living with her boyfriend. Harry immediately guesses that Sally’s relationship is new:
"You take someone to the airport, its clearly the beginning of the relationship. That's why I have never taken anyone to the airport at the beginning of a relationship. Because eventually things move on and you don't take someone to the airport and I never wanted anyone to say to me, how come you never take me to the airport anymore?"
You have to have lived in a major city to understand why this is so true. Anyone who has lived in New York, Chicago or Los Angeles will immediately understand.
Just like their first encounter, the two realize on their shared airplane flight that they still can’t stand each other and escape each other’s company as soon as they can.
Fast forward another five years. Sally is out shopping with her friend Marie (Carrie Fisher) when Marie points out:
“Someone is staring at you in Personal Growth.”
Realizing that they are both recently out of long-term relationships, Harry and Sally start hanging out. They have a sweet funny relationship, sharing late night TV movies, taking walks, visiting museums, and analyzing dates.
This leads to what is easily the funniest scene in the film. While eating at the famous Katz Delicatessen, Harry and Sally start arguing about whether or not men can tell when women are faking their pleasure during intimacy. When Harry insists that he can tell the difference, Sally retorts:
“It’s just that all men are sure it never happened to them and all women at one time or other have done it, so you do the math."
She then proceeds to demonstrate her technique faking it with men, while the entire restaurant looks on. An older woman at the next table (Estelle Reiner, Director Rob Reiner’s mom in real life), drily delivers the movie's most famous line:
“I’ll have what she’s having!”
As Harry and Sally’s friendship goes on through holidays, break-ups, run-ins with exes and all manner of activities, their friends struggle to understand their platonic relationship. At one point early in their friendship Harry bluntly tells Sally:
“A woman friend. This is amazing. You may be the first attractive woman I have not wanted to sleep with in my entire life.”
But it’s not true. As sometimes happens, opposites attract, and friends can become lovers.
One night Harry and Sally give into the attraction simmering beneath the surface, and their friendship is jeopardized. They stop talking altogether. Harry tries several times to fix it, but Sally is too hurt by Harry treating her the same way he’s treated all his meaningless flings. She believes that he is incapable of feeling true love in the context of a grown-up relationship, and she ignores his attempts to rekindle their friendship.
In the movie’s penultimate scene, Harry is home alone watching Dick Clark’s "New Year's Rockin' Eve" when it hits him like a thunderbolt: he is in love with Sally. He’s so excited he rushes out into the street and runs across the city to find her at their friend’s lavish New Year’s Eve party.
Just before midnight he finds her in the crowd and professes his love for her. Sally expresses disbelief that he really loves her, and he rushes to explain,
"I love that you get cold when it's 71 degrees out. I love that it takes you an hour and a half to order a sandwich. I love that you get a little crinkle above your nose when you're looking at me like I'm nuts. I love that after I spend the day with you, I can still smell your perfume on my clothes. And I love that you are the last person I want to talk to before I go to sleep at night. And it's not because I'm lonely, and it's not because it's New Year's Eve. I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible."
Sally responds with tears,
"You see? That is just like you, Harry. You say things like that, and you make it impossible for me to hate you."
The two embrace and live happily ever after, just like any good romantic comedy.
The award-winning film also includes several snippets of interviews with older couples sharing how they met. Based on Ephron’s interviews with real couples, the scenes include an older Japanese couple who first met at their wedding, a couple who got divorced but then reunited years later at a funeral, and a couple who lived their whole lives in close proximity in New York, but never met until they were both on a trip to Chicago.
“When Harry Met Sally” is rated R, mostly for discussions of intimate relationships, but is relatively tame for today’s movie standards. Older teens and adults will likely enjoy this smart, funny, and romantic New Year’s movie.