Can men and women really be just friends?
If you look to When Harry Met Sally, a.k.a. the best romantic comedy ever (I will not be taking questions at this time!), the answer is still a resounding NO. When Harry Burns (Billy Crystal at his very best) and Sally Albright (Meg Ryan’s first of many rom-com rodeos) carpool to New York City after college graduation, they argue that very question. Harry says it can never be platonic—sex always gets in the way. Sensible Sally disagrees—she has “a number of” male friends, none of whom, she says, wants to sleep with her.
The next 90 minutes, which encompass 12 years of chance encounters, witty banter, tears and eventual (inevitable?) romance, would prove them both wrong. When Harry Met Sally was released 30 years ago on July 12, 1989, it went on to gross $92.8 million at the domestic box office. But its real value is in how it changed romantic comedies forever. You’ll find its traces in just about every tried-and-true rom-com released in the last three decades: From Nora Ephron’s other classics like You’ve Got Mail and Sleepless in Seattle, to the gushy ’90s flicks populated by Julia Roberts and Kate Hudson, from 27 Dresses’ straitlaced Jane all the way to the reusable meet-cute tropes seen in recent movies like Always Be My Maybe and Someone Great, hints of Harry and Sally and the New York City they inhabited are everywhere.
Despite some initial criticisms that the film perpetuated a washed-up version of Woody Allen’s New York, When Harry Met Sally has aged beautifully, thanks in no small part to Rob Reiner’s comedic vision, Nora Ephron’s timelessly true script and the Crystal/Ryan chemistry, which was electric. The movie almost plays like a series of bits, so all the most memorable scenes are easy to track down online. Revisit some of the best and funniest here, listed in sequence.
Halfway through the road trip that started it all, our heroes make a pit stop at a diner, and Sally is trying to convince Harry that she has, in fact, had her share of enjoyable sexual encounters. Harry doesn’t believe her for a second when the only name she can muster is Sheldon, a.k.a. “the wonder schlong.” “Sheldon can do your income taxes,” Harry says. “If you need a root canal, Sheldon’s your man.” After this exchange, Sally proceeds with the most complicated chef’s salad order ever. She’d like that dressing on the side, thank you very much.
After a stroll through an autumnal wonderland (a.k.a. the Upper West Side in October), Harry and Sally visit The Met’s Temple of Dendur, where Harry adopts a sort of eastern European accent for fun. “I have decided that for the rest of the day we are going to talk like theez,” he says. To test out their new voices, Harry and Sally repeat the tongue twister “Waiter, there is too much pepper on my paprikash, but I would be proud to partake of your pecan pie.” It’s after this when Sally professes to having a date planned, and they finally share a funny look like, “We should be the ones going on a date?” This whole scene is just really damn cute.
It was the moan heard ‘round the world. This scene is so iconic that fans of the film still TO THIS DAY compete in a “faking it” contest at scene’s original filming location, Katz’s Delicatessen on the Lower East Side. This year’s competition happened Friday. Some would posit that Meg Ryan’s original fake-out was an important milestone for women and the way we talk about sex. But “I’ll have what she’s having,” the now famous line delivered by a fellow customer (played by Rob Reiner’s mother, Estelle), probably made the biggest cultural waves.
Gordon McRae was lovely in the 1955 Oklahoma! film, but Billy Crystal does this number better. Harry and Sally take a trip to The Sharper Image (RIP) where they test out a karaoke machine with their loud take on “The Surrey With The Fringe Top,” which quickly turns into an awkward about-town run-in with Harry’s ex, Helen, and her new man, Ira. How embarrassing! Sally scolds Harry when he remarks that her legs looked larger. “She must be retaining water,” he says. “Believe me, the woman saves everything.”
Still reeling from the Ira incident, Harry and Sally visit their friends Marie (the dearly departed Carrie Fisher) and Jess (Bruno Kirby, who also is no longer with us) in their new apartment. A decorating debate becomes a battle of the sexes when the women abhor a coffee table made of a giant wagon wheel and sheet of glass, and the domestic debacle reminds Harry of when he was setting up house with Helen. He yells, “Six years later you find yourself ‘Surrey With The Fringe On Top’ in front of IRA!” Tough look.
Hear me out: This is the smartest scene in all of When Harry Met Sally. The choreography of this four-way call between Harry, Sally, Jess and Marie the morning after Harry and Sally finally screw goes off without a hitch. But it was no normal shoot: The actors rehearsed the four-way call tirelessly and did more than 60 takes to get it right. “Technical people have always asked me, ‘How did you do that?’” Rob Reiner said in a recent USA Today interview. It sounds so perfect, you could listen with your eyes closed. Behold this fast-talking magic:
While grand monologues like this one don’t usually occur in real life, this scene shows just why When Harry Met Sally is so naturally lovable. Their relationship just feels real—from their constant goof-offs to sharing emotional breakdowns to just putzing around together, their friendship looks like a real, grownup relationship. And Harry’s confession/realization of love to Sally at a New Year’s Eve party sends the perfect message. After all, they say when you love someone, you love their flaws: “I love that you get cold when it’s 71 degrees out,” Harry says. “I love that it takes you an hour to order a sandwich.” And then Sally says through tears, “You make it impossible for me to hate you. And I hate you Harry. I really hate you.” And then they kiss. And then they exchange this beautiful knowing look, Sally crinkles up her face and then they kiss some more. Voila.