There are a few romantic comedies that shaped the genre, andWhen Harry Met Sally is one of those movies. Nora Ephron's iconic film invented many of the tropes that still exist in the genre today including the will-they or wont-they storyline, the dramatic scene where a guy rushes to a woman, and of course, the speech. The one where the guy lists off all the wonderful things that he loves about a woman like they're groceries. This movie featured these scenes long before they were clichés, but even in 1989 a few of these overtures were not as romantic as Ephron intended them to be. The NYE scene in When Harry Met Sally is actually creepy, and it definitely was not the happy ending it was imagined to be. Harry rushes to meet Sally on New Years and profess his love, and it's all very romantic if you put the movie on mute and maybe also wear a blindfold.
Here's a quick refresher on the Harry and Sally's relationship. The two met at the end of college, and share a drive to the New York City. On the way, Harry shares his theory that men and women can't be friends. You know, because men couldn't possibly be expected to view women as their intellectual peers instead of sex objects and women are consumed by their never-ending quest for a committed relationship. Sure, sounds real. (World's longest eye roll.) The two don't like each other and part ways, but they keep running into each other over the years: on an airplane, in a bookstore, and finally, they become inseparable best friends. One night, Sally calls Harry after she finds out her ex is getting married and he rushes to her apartment to comfort her. Not long after, they sleep together and things get inevitably complicated because this is a romantic comedy.
Long story short: Harry can't handle his emotions, and he's a jerk to Sally. The two end their friendship. Cue climactic and vastly creepy New Year's Eve sequence. Harry is spending the holiday alone and realizes he's made a huge mistake. He rushes to meet Sally at a New Year's party. It's there that he confronts her with a laundry list of reasons why he likes her which are honestly insults. That line is blurry in a lot of romantic comedy movies, and it's part of the problem here. For some reason Sally is won over so they kiss and live happily ever, or something.
The film reinforces gender stereotypes; women are portrayed as clingy and unable to separate sex from their many, many feelings, while men are noncommittal and detached, etc. These dynamics are at play during the whole movie, but the New Year's Eve scene in particular has some problems. First of all, Harry shows up unannounced after weeks of Sally ignoring him. She outright tells him to leave. "I'm sorry Harry, I know it's New Years Eve and I know you're lonely but you can't just show up here, tell me you love me, and expect everything to be all right," Sally tells him. Harry ignores this, and continues to persist. The fact that men don't listen to rejection in romantic comedies is a major issue, and it teaches men to ignore important boundaries. For this reason, the exchange starts off creepy.
One of the most memorable and often copied moment from When Harry Met Sally is when Harry lists all the reasons why he loves his longtime friend. They're supposed to be cute things: "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 that little crinkle above your nose when you're looking at me like I'm nuts," Harry says. These aren't real compliments, and they are actually sort of insulting. If you think about it closely, he just told her that she's an indecisive, wrinkly, broken thermostat, but it's supposed to be romantic purely because he's a man accepting her faults.
Then, in the creepiest part of the exchange, Sally tells Harry that she hates him. For some reason, he understands this to mean that she actually loves him. It's another part of the scene that equates antagonism with romance, further crossing that line. In real life, there isn't usually double entendre in a rejection, and teaching men otherwise is pretty irresponsible. It also represents the autonomy and respect Sally is forfeiting to be in this relationship, as we already know that Harry is a serial mansplainer with almost no redeeming traits.
Which leads to the next point. Harry hasn't treated Sally at all well in this movie, and while their romance and the idea of them ending up together is a neat ending, it's also accidentally a bleak one. If you think about what will happen to the couple after the movie stops rolling (which, to be fair, not many rom-coms do), it isn't really the happy ending anyone would hope for. #DumpHarry.
Of course, it's a tradition to watch When Harry Met Sally on New Year's Eve. The movie is well-written and smart, and in it's time characterized a contemporary relationship in a way that's been emulated by many TV shows and movies. It's possible to enjoy the sparkly world of the movie while critiquing what exactly did happen when Harry met Sally. Which, frankly, is that he espoused a weird misogynistic theory and then met her again and then became friends and then stopped being friends and then cornered and insulted her at a New Year's Eve party but they ended up together anyway.