On July 21, 1989, When Harry Met Sally. . . hit the theaters and for audiences, it was love at first sight. The film managed to be candid and heartfelt—a tall order considering most romantic comedies register high on the sappy meter. Comedian Billy Crystal made the move from funny guy to leading man as sarcastic yet caring Harry. Meg Ryan helped cement her status as "America's Sweetheart" as the quirky, upbeat Sally.
A true collaboration between screenwriter Nora Ephron and director Rob Reiner, When Harry Met Sally. . . became one of the most popular romantic comedies of all time. When Harry Met Sally. . . raked in more than $92 million in the United States, despite its R rating. Not too bad for a movie mostly about two people talking.
Twenty-five years later, When Harry Met Sally. . . is still compelling. Its funny lines, canny insights on women and men and loveable performances make the film a rom-com classic. (If you decide to check it out, just be prepared for the late '80s fashions − Meg's high-waisted pants, out-of-control perm, Billy's Cosby-like sweaters and walking tights are definitely cringeworthy.)
Let's walk down memory lane and revisit some of the movie's classic moments:
"When I buy a new book, I read the last page first. That way, in case I die before I finish, I know how it ends."
Harry uses this line to describe "his dark side" to Sally. This is their first encounter, which was definitely not a "meet cute" moment. The pair spend 18 hours trapped in a car together. They are both graduates of the University of Chicago, off to start their grown-up lives in New York City.
Harry and Sally are the on-screen alter egos of screenwriter Nora Ephron and director Rob Reiner. Ephron based Harry on Reiner. At the time, Reiner was a single man who had been through a divorce. She also borrowed from her own life for Sally. Reiner described Ephron's talent to People magazine: "There was no better observer on the dance that men and women do with each other."
"Men and women can't be friends, because the sex part always gets in the way. "
During their road trip, Harry explains why men and women can't be just friends. And sex definitely seems to be on his mind. Harry makes a pass at Sally, even though he still has a girlfriend in Chicago. She thinks he's a jerk, and he thinks she's uptight and rigid. The pair part ways soon after arriving in New York.
"How long do I have to lie here and hold her before I can get up and go home? Is thirty seconds enough?"
This was one of the film's "I can't believe he said that out loud" moments. Once the pair becomes friends, Harry talks with Sally about his romantic escapades with remarkable bluntness. Here he weighs in against post-coital cuddling.
The idea for this revelation came from one of the many meetings Ephron had with Reiner and producer Andrew Scheinman. In the introduction to the published screenplay, Ephron wrote that they told her "appalling things." They explained to her that "when they finished having sex, they wanted to get up out of bed and go home."
Sally: "Well, I went to bed at seven-thirty last night. I haven't done that since the third grade."
Harry: "That's the good thing about depression. You get your rest."
Here Sally and Harry explore the humor in heartbreak. Their romantic misery brings them together—Harry mourns the end of marriage while Sally's upbeat facade cracks after learning her ex-boyfriend is getting married.
"I'll have what she's having."
In the film's most famous scene, Sally lets Harry in on a secret while the two of them are sitting in a diner. He insists that he's satisfied every woman he's slept with. She very graphically introduces him to the fake orgasm as the rest of the restaurant patrons look on. Sally's performance inspires a woman at a nearby table to order, "I'll have what she's having."
Fun fact: the woman who delivered the film's best-known line is actually director Rob Reiner's mom, Estelle Reiner. And in case you want to try having what Sally had, the scene was filmed in Katz's Delicatessen on New York's Lower East Side.
"Not only does she always pick the best thing on the menu, but she orders it in a way that the chef didn't even know how good it could be."
A trait borrowed from Ephron herself, Sally proves herself to be a waiter's worst nightmare in the film. Harry does a wonderful job of putting a positive spin on Sally's most prominent quirk here for the benefit of Jess, the friend that Harry tries to set up with Sally. There's almost a drinking game to be made out of her use of "on the side."
"I love how you get cold when it's seventy-one 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 right there when you're looking at me like I'm nuts."
With these lines, Ephron has penned one of the most realistic declarations of love ever put on film. And Billy Crystal does a remarkable job making these words believable. Sally, unlike most rom-com heroines, doesn't fall to pieces, but replies with fury (well, at least at first).
"That is just like you, Harry. You say things like that, and you make it impossible for me to hate you, and I hate you, Harry. I really hate you."
But by the last "hate you," Sally, along with much of the audience, has crumbled. Finally the two friends have figured out that they were meant to be. Cue the wedding bells and order a coconut cake with chocolate sauce on the side!