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When Harry met Sally: the advent of the rom-com

2015 marks the 26th anniversary of When Harry Met Sally. One of the most popular films of the ‘80s, it was one of the first of its kind: a romantic comedy discussing the age-old question of whether or not men and women can be “just friends.” Giving merit to the question, sex was the proverbial elephant in the room. The thought of an 11-year friendship turned into a relationship on the screen seems as if it would be agonizing to watch. However, the film is far from painful, as the seamless transitions between years are perfect. Directed by Rob Reiner, the film grossed a total of $92.8 million in North America, seen as a success in comparison to its budget of $16 million. But the question remains: is it a timeless classic?

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By Harvin Bhathal (Contributor) – Email

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Note: Spoilers.

2015 marks the 26th anniversary of When Harry Met Sally. One of the most popular films of the ‘80s, it was one of the first of its kind: a romantic comedy discussing the age-old question of whether or not men and women can be “just friends.” Giving merit to the question, sex was the proverbial elephant in the room. The thought of an 11-year friendship turned into a relationship on the screen seems as if it would be agonizing to watch. However, the film is far from painful, as the seamless transitions between years are perfect. Directed by Rob Reiner, the film grossed a total of $92.8 million in North America, seen as a success in comparison to its budget of $16 million. But the question remains: is it a timeless classic?

The answer to that is rather complicated. While the movie has aged like a fine wine, the concept has not. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, the premise of the film resonated with the audience well, but today women are more frequently respected as being equal to men rather than being synonymous with a prize: sex. This is one area where the film hasn’t aged well; after all of the heartbreaks and bonding, Harry and Sally do end up together, as the main characters in many rom-coms do. However, this ending isn’t truly necessary. The film could have ended showing the amazing friendship the two possessed, but for the sake of a “happy ending,” the two fall in love with each other. It’s a shame how in Hollywood, staying friends is seen as a negative. Even to this day, the same notion echoes through the industry in movies such as Just Friends and What If, and to a different extent, Friends with Benefits and No Strings Attached.

But despite that criticism, When Harry Met Sally remains one of the best romantic-comedies of all time. The film thrives on its witty dialogue (specifically in Billy Crystal’s acting of Harry) without oversentimentalizing it. There is an essential balance between sadness and comic relief that other films often fail to accomplish. The dialogue could not be more perfect; it propels the plot and character development all throughout the film. It’s well-crafted and well-acted by all characters, major to minor. The on-screen chemistry between Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan is noticeable in every way, most obviously in their banter, which ranges from adorable to hysterical to morose. The excellent acting and dialogue is not forgotten, even over 20 years later.

In addition, the soundtrack ties everything together. There is no question as to whether Frank Sinatra is a timeless classic; his music embodies New York (no pun intended). The scenes where Sinatra’s music plays in the background add the perfect touch of drama, beauty, and grace.

Though the concept is outdated in the sense that more men and women are friends now than in previous generations, the film as a whole transcends time barriers. Besides, it’s a welcome change from the rom-coms of today’s Hollywood. That’s not a knock on the movies of today; the fact is that the simplicity of Rob Reiner’s film is undeniable. When Harry Met Sally is what it is: a rom-com about two friends falling in love with each other. It is, in every sense, the quintessential romantic comedy.

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