When Harry Met Sally is one of those timeless romantic comedies that everyone seems to have seen at one point in their lives. First released in 1989, the movie stars Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal as enemies-turned-friends-turned-something-more. Even if you’ve never seen the movie, you’re probably familiar with a certain iconic scene set in a deli. If you first saw When Harry Met Sally as a kid, or even as a teenager, the significance of what was happening in that scene might have gone over your head, but as an adult, it’s all too obvious what is (or isn’t) happening.
That’s not the only thing that will stand out to adults watching When Harry Met Sally. The decades that have passed since the film was first released, combined with the wisdom that only adulthood can bring, has opened up our eyes to certain subtleties in the film, along with other details that our younger selves probably missed.
No one is wearing a seat belt. Yikes.
When Harry first meets Sally, it was the late 1970s and they have just graduated from the University of Chicago. It’s a new and exciting time in their lives which might explain why they’re so headstrong and carefree, neither one of them bothering to buckle up their seat belts as they prepare to drive from Chicago to New York City. The visual is a bit disconcerting to modern audiences who are well-used to seat belt laws requiring passengers to be buckled up safely, and is especially alarming for adults who know that an air bag is not enough to protect you in the event of an accident.
When Harry and Sally bump into each other again, it’s five years later, and this time they’re on a plane. Harry jumps up a row so he can sit next to Sally. You’d think that his next move would be to buckle up his seat belt but nope, it seems he’s convinced that he’s indestructible and has no need to keep himself safely tethered to his seat.
Chicago to New York is not an 18 hour drive
What kind of route has Sally mapped out that getting from Chicago to New York City will take 18 hours? It’s clear she isn’t adding in breaks, either, since she says that they can divide the driving time into six shifts of three hours each. Today, that trip would only take 12 hours on the highway. It’s possible that the route they were taking might have had slightly slower speed limits back in the 1970s, but even if they were crawling along at a snail’s pace of 50 miles per hour for the entire trip (which is highly unlikely), the roughly 800 miles between the two cities would still only take 16 hours. Harry and Sally would have to drive at 45 miles per hour for the trip to take 18 hours.
Did they simply avoid highways for the journey to take that long? Or were they driving dangerously slow on roads with cars going much faster than them? Sally seems like she wants the trip to be over with as quickly as possible, so you’d think she would have mapped out a more efficient route.
There actually are Sunday day of the week underpants
When Sally and Harry first meet, she spins a long tale about her ex-boyfriend’s jealousy over her days of the week underwear. She claimed that he was suspicious that she never wore underwear that said Sunday, and wanted to know where the pair was. Sally explained that Sunday underwear simply wasn’t made "because of God."
We’ll never know for sure if Sally really never did have a Sunday pair of underwear or if she left her pair somewhere she didn’t want her boyfriend to know about. What we do know is that Sunday underwear definitely exists, contrary to what Sally claimed. Sunday underwear isn’t new, either. According to Bustle, the lack of Sunday underwear is "an urban legend" and that even vintage days of the week underwear included a pair for each of the seven days. Sally’s story seemed pretty sincere, though, so we’re willing to give her the benefit of the doubt and believe the Sunday pair was somehow missing from her set.
Harry has some pretty outdated views on male and female relationships
Harry first meets Sally in the 1970s, a decade that made significant strides in women’s rights. Yet Harry sounds like a man from an earlier generation with his outdated views on women. He seems to have embraced the (then) recent sexual revolution to the point where he enjoys having plenty of sex with women, but that’s about it. Everything else about his attitude is decidedly old-fashioned.
Harry’s belief that men and women can’t be friends isn’t just outdated but also kind of creepy when you hear his rationalization for this theory. According to Harry, it’s impossible for men to be friends with women because men are predatory and only want to get women into bed. This seems a lot more like a reflection of Harry’s values than anything else, yet the movie makes it seem like Harry’s attitude is completely logical. In fact, the question of whether or not men and women can be friends is the entire premise of the film.
It’s really hard to sympathize with Harry
Okay Harry, we get it, your wife left you. To be honest, it’s hard to sympathize with him and we can’t help but think that he had it coming to him. Harry proved pretty early on how he views male and female relationships, and he doesn’t exactly have a lot of respect for women. This is the same guy who claimed to be in love with his college girlfriend, and almost immediately after propositioned Sally. He also admitted to Sally that he was getting married because he was tired of being single. It’s hard to believe that his views changed in just five years, and he does say that he still doesn’t think men and women can be friends.
It wouldn’t be surprising if Harry had been unfaithful to his wife. Even if he had been a model husband, he still didn’t get married for the right reasons and it’s likely that his wife could sense that. We can’t really blame her for moving on and finding a happy relationship with someone else.
Marie is truly a tragic character
While Sally is the primary protagonist of the film, it’s easy to get more emotionally invested in her friend, Marie. First of all, Marie is played by the late, great Carrie Fisher. The iconic actress plays possibly the most tragic character in the film. Marie is keen to set up Sally after learning she and her boyfriend broke up, and even carries around a Rolodex (remember, this movie takes place before smart phones and even PalmPilots) filled with men’s contact info. She desperately wants to see her pals in love, and to be in love herself, and is in an unsatisfying relationship with a married man who clearly isn’t going to leave his wife.
It’s hard not to feel bad for Marie. While Sally is happy to remain independent and to stay single for the time being, Marie feels like the clock is ticking on her opportunity to be a wife and a mother. She even expresses interest in Sally’s ex-boyfriend when she learns he’s back on the market. The film treats her as a comedic character, but modern adult audiences are more likely to feel sorry for Marie and her inability to find fulfillment outside of a relationship.
There are a LOT of monologues in this movie
One thing an adult will notice when watching When Harry met Sally is that the characters talk a lot. They talk fast and are prone to giving long-winded speeches. While this makes for some hilarious banter, it’s just a tad bit unrealistic. We might be used to monologues in plays (Shakespeare was particularly fond of giving his characters extensive speeches), but not so much in romantic comedies.
The choice to give characters such big chunks of text is an uncommon one for a movie. It’s even odder given that When Harry Met Sally seems to be attempting a realistic approach, to the point of inserting fake documentary clips highlighting couples’ stories of how they met between some scenes. It might be unusual, but fortunately the unusual writing style works for the movie and only enhances its charm, not to mention the quirkiness of the characters.
The streets of New York are surprisingly empty
New York is one of the most densely populated cities on the planet and, as such, is full of the hustle and bustle you’d expect from a city that is said to never sleep. So what, then, is going on in When Harry Met Sally? While the lack of traffic at the beginning of the film when Sally drops Harry off after arriving in the city is plausible given the fact that the sun is just coming up, the traffic never seems to pick up after that. Scenes of Harry and Sally walking around show very few, if any, people milling about in the background.
What’s going on? This seems more like a post-apocalyptic New York City, albeit one where the buildings remain intact. We also don’t hear the car horns and other sounds of traffic that are characteristic of New York. Did Harry and Sally manage to find quiet pockets of the city that few people know about? Or was the film just lax about hiring extras to more realistically portray the city?
How is Sally not creeped out when Harry tells her to wear skirts?
As if we needed more proof that Harry needs to learn to treat women better, his advice to Sally when she announces she’s going on a date is that she should wear a skirt. Harry says that she doesn’t wear enough skirts, which is wrong on multiple levels. First of all, he seems to be trying to make her dress in a more traditionally feminine manner, which matches up with his old fashioned ideas. He’s also telling her that she should show more leg. which is just plain gross.
Even weirder is that Sally, an empowered and independent woman, doesn’t tell him off. Instead of telling Harry that she’ll wear whatever she wants to, thank you very much, she seems visibly pleased that Harry wants to see her wearing more skirts. It’s really disappointing that Sally didn’t put Harry in his place because frankly, he needs to be told off.
Is there any woman who wouldn’t realize Sally is faking it?
In case you weren’t already well aware that Harry is pretty much clueless when it comes to what women are really like, Sally has to prove to him just how easy it is for women to fake an orgasm. While doing it in public might not have been the best judgement call (not to mention totally embarrassing if she ever wants to go back there again), it was definitely worth it to see the shock on Harry’s face.
Women watching the scene probably get a lot of enjoyment from that iconic scene, because they know all too well how common it is for women to fake satisfaction. There are doubtless many men, however, who are likely just as startled as Harry was when they realize that yep, women have some pretty great acting abilities when it comes to faking it. While men learning a thing or two about pleasuring a woman from When Harry Met Sally can only benefit mankind, this is a scene we’re grateful only adults will realize the implications of.
Sally and Harry don’t have the best friends
It’s a good thing Sally and Harry find friendship with each other, because their other friends are kind of lousy. We might feel bad for Marie, but it’s hard to forget that she was ready to pounce on Sally’s ex the second they broke up. She also poaches Sally’s date, Jess, after Sally and Harry decided to go on a double date and set each other up with their friends. Harry’s friend, Jess, immediately falls for Marie, instead, and Marie falls for Jess.
Marie and Jess individually get permission from Sally and Harry to date each other, but are both asked to wait a few days in order to not abruptly reject their original dates. Marie and Jess both agree to this, but instead of sticking to their promises, they share a cab immediately after making them and clearly intend to go home together.
To their credit, both Sally and Harry are happy that their friends find love with each other, but that doesn’t excuse Marie and Jess for being unable to keep their word.
The Asian couple’s story isn’t cute, it’s heartbreaking
One of the mockumentary couples featured throughout the film is an elderly Asian couple sharing the story of how they met. On the surface, it’s cute, but in reality, it’s quite devastating. The man explains how he and his wife met through an arranged marriage. When she was proposed to him as a potential bride, he refused to marry her until he saw for himself what she looked like. Since he wasn’t actually supposed to see her until the wedding, he went to her village and spied on her. Satisfied that she was attractive enough for him, he decided to go through with the marriage.
There are so many things wrong with this. First, marrying based on looks alone is pretty shallow. There’s also the fact that he spied on her without her consent. It’s also alarming that, while he had a say in whether or not they got married, his bride-to-be had no such option. Even worse is that, the entire time he recounts this story, his wife just smiles and nods while looking down at her lap. No one even bothered to give her any lines to show that she might have fallen in love in spite of the circumstances under which she and her husband were married.
How does everyone afford such nice apartments?
When Harry Met Sally takes place in the past, the film isn’t set that long ago. It certainly was not set in a time when exorbitantly expensive NYC apartment rentals were unheard of. Harry and Sally are both in their early 30s for most of the film, and neither one of them appears to have a roommate. Jess and Marie appear to be about the same age. They move in together later in the film, and appear to have quite the lavish place, complete with a breathtaking view. How are they affording their apartments?
According to ForRent.com, Harry’s Greenwich Village apartment would cost $3,800 a month today. While the average NYC rent in the 1980s was $1,700, adjusted for inflation that amount is over $3,500. Rent might have been a tiny bit cheaper back when the film was made, but it was still pretty steep. It’s surprising that all of these young 30 somethings seem to have plenty of money to pay the rent. Just how high are their salaries?
Harry’s character transformation is pretty gross
Harry is a pretty unlikeable character at the beginning of the film, but surely he grows in wisdom and experience as the movie progresses, yes? A younger person watching When Harry Met Sally might think so, but many adults will be appalled by just how little character growth the male protagonist shows. While Harry seems to come around a bit and accept that men and women can be friends with each other, it’s clear that he never gets over wanting to sleep with Sally.
When Sally finds out her ex-boyfriend, who always claimed he didn’t want to get married, is engaged, she is devastated. She calls Harry and he gallantly goes to her apartment to help her in her time of need. Sally is in bed crying and Harry cheers her up by… kissing her? He doesn’t stop there, either. Instead of comforting his friend with ice cream or popcorn and a movie, he decides to sleep with her when she is at her most vulnerable.
While this is supposed to be a turning point in their relationship, Harry taking advantage of his friend in the middle of a crisis isn’t so much romantic as it is nauseating.
Sally can do so much better
The end of the movie is a heartwarming finale that proves that true love will always prevail. The devastated Sally is overjoyed to learn that Harry truly does care for her after he gives a speech about how much he loves her. Isn’t it cute? Sure, until you remember what a jerk Harry is.
His reward for treating women like garbage and taking advantage of one of his closest friends is getting the girl. By the end of When Harry Met Sally, we’re supposed to believe that Harry is a reformed character, but is he? It doesn’t really seem like he’s changed all that much and, even if he had, it’s pretty gross that the end of the movie only affirms his theory that men and women can’t truly be friends. The film would have been a lot stronger if the movie had ended with both Harry and Sally realizing that they worked better as friends and agreeing to leave their one night stand in the past. Frankly, when it comes to husbands, Sally could do a lot better.