“The Perfect Scene” is The Flyover’s ongoing series discussing our favorite moments in movie history.
“When Harry Met Sally” was released in 1989 to immediate fanfare, grossing nearly $100 million and ushering in a new era of the romantic-comedy. It captures its cast and crew at the peak of their collective powers, and catapulted its youngest lead into superstardom.
“When Harry Met Sally” is a near-perfect movie, deftly crafted by writer Nora Ephron and director Rob Reiner. It blends brilliant writing and performances with immense heart, humor, and compassion. More than 30 years later, its story and comedy is still so flawless, largely because it is still so relatable: we’ve all been Sally and Harry (Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal), or had friends like Jess and Marie (Bruno Kirby and Carrie Fisher, who are incredible in this movie).
We could have chosen nearly a dozen scenes to feature in this space, but our very first “Perfect Scene” is the very last one in the film, when Harry finally professes his love for Sally at the New Year’s party.
We spend the first hour of the movie witnessing the invention of the “will they/won’t they,” when finally, they do. It initially seems like the perfect culmination of their ten year friendship, but things quickly sour to the point where Sally refuses to even answer Harry’s phone calls. When she finally does, Harry realizes he’s lost her: she isn’t going to be his consolation prize any longer.
On New Year’s Eve, Sally joins Marie and Jess at a fancy party in Lower Manhattan. Harry, on the other hand, is busy eating Mallomars, costing the Knicks yet another chance at a title, and walking alone on the streets of Manhattan. When he reaches Washington Square Park, the very spot Sally dropped him off at ten years earlier, it finally hits him: he needs to tell Sally he loves her.
When he finally reaches the party, it’s almost too late – Sally is about to leave and wants no part of Harry as the countdown to the new year begins. And then he says it:
“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 a little crinkle above your nose when you’re looking at me like I’m nuts. I love that after I spend the day with you, I can still smell your perfume on my clothes. And I love that you are the last person I want to talk to before I go to sleep at night. And it’s not because I’m lonely, and it’s not because it’s New Year’s Eve. I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”
Why It’s Perfect
It’s perfect because it’s a beautiful moment, both in how it is shot, written, and performed, but also for our on-screen friends. We are invested in these people because we’ve spent 90 minutes laughing and crying along with them: this means something special to us as well.
It’s perfect because Sally tries desperately to convince Harry, and herself, that she still hates him, but her eyes let us know that was never going to happen. In fact, early on in filming, Rob Reiner still didn’t know what Sally was going to say. But, as he told Entertainment Weekly: “It doesn’t matter what she says because, if you turn the sound off, you can see Meg. She’s in love. She’s fallen in love, and she wants to be with him.”
It’s also perfect because it’s not the end of the scene. Just as Harry and Sally make their love official, with “Auld Lang Syne” playing in the background, Harry takes a step back and provides us with one last precursor to “Curb Your Enthusiasm”:
“What does this song mean? My whole life, I don’t know what this song means. I mean, ‘Should old acquaintances be forgot’. Does that mean that we should forget old acquaintances? Or does it mean that if we happened to forget them, we should remember them, which is not possible because we already forgot ’em?”
It’s a perfect moment because, like the rest of the movie, it’s a real moment. Most movies would have ended with the kiss, and faded to black. But, that isn’t real life, and that wouldn’t be Harry.
And just as Harry loves Sally for all of her little quirks, she loves him for his: she tries to answer his thought, shrugs it off with a quick line about old friends, and continues on kissing her own best, old friend.
The perfect scene.