TheWhen Harry Met Sally screenplay is a thing of perfection. Nora Ephron was nominated for an Academy Award for her writing but did not win. She should have. The movie is inspiring, witty, and true. It follows the best of friends who learn to be lovers, fall apart, and come back together. It gave us many memorable quotes, performances, and that pie scene.
Ephron owned the romantic comedy genre. I mean, I don't think there was anyone else out there who understood the way men and women think and feel with such precision. When it came time to analyze one of her screenplays, it was hard to choose. At some point, I'll get to all of them, but for now, Let's dig into When Harry Met Sally.
Genre conventions in When Harry Met Sally
When Harry Met Sally's greatest strength comes from its ability to defy normal genre conventions. Its very premise seeks to rock the average rom-com from its stasis. Starting a movie with two people, in other relationships, driving together. It sets for the theme "men and woman can't be friends," and then sets to prove it by two people denying that's possible.
It uses classic love songs, an engaging cast, and emotional beats to effortlessly avoid cliche. These choices not only set the screenplay apart but also adeptly engage the audience by subverting what we expect in our romantic comedies. Our meet-cute happens a few times. The relationship grows to complain about other people.
When they're not together they're perfect and when they are together, they fight. Until they realize the effortless parts are the parts we love.
Lessons from the Screenplay does a great job breaking down these norms and showing how Ephron carries the story to new heights.
When Harry Met Sally Ordering Scene
Off the bat, I want to start with the most famous scene in the movie...kind of. We get a few ordering scenes, one that leads to an iconic line, and one that just shows us who Sally is as a character.
Here we see she's particular, she wants what she wants, the way she wants it. We, like Harry in this scene, are beginning to understand Sally. And Sally's arc of getting what she's not expecting is set up. But what about Harry? He's a guy who is happy with what life serves him. But will he want a little more? That's his arc! And in this scene, we set them both up to arc together over the course of the film.
So what about the other famous ordering scene?
This occurs later in the story. The friends have shared meals and are very close friends at this point. We're in a lull, but not really. We know how Sally will order, but what happens if what she orders in the bedroom doesn't go her way? The sexual tension added later shows how comfortable these two people have become together. And how Harry's view of Sally changes when he sees her as a sexual person.
It's a great pivot for the story and the audience.
Sorry, the line is cut off in this version!
When Harry Met Sally Fight
Man, fights in movies stress me out so much. I think about my girlfriend, whose name is Sally, and I get an additional PTSD wave when I watch this movie. See, in When Harry Met Sally, you root for them to have sex for most of the movie. And when it happens, you're so excited. I haven't been so excited for fictional people to bone down since I had that dream about...nevermind. The point is, after Harry and Sally finally consummate their love...it all falls apart.
What I love about this fight, even with the stomach ulcer it gives me, is that it feels real. Look at the way the dialogue and action are written. We aren't getting speeches, we're getting snippets of two frustrated people who bore their souls to another person and paid the price.
The action lines are beautiful, giving us a hint of what's going on inside the characters while not giving away the plot. It's there in support and rocks the house.
When Harry Met Sally Ending
Rom-coms usually have predictable endings. And I guess, in theory, we can see that When Harry Met Sally has always been headed in this direction. But a movie is about the journey, not about the moment. And since the journey subverts us at every turn, we get worried about these characters. We get worried that they don't have the elements we see in every other couple in the movie. That when they fight, they break up. And it might be food good.
Look at the way it's written on the page. Each line gives us more and more suspense. We usually see stuff like this is action movies or thrillers, but it really pays off here.
When Harry Met Sally by Nora Ephron
They end up together, on the couch, telling people how it happened. It's beautiful. Brave. and feels real. And it is true when you love someone, you want the rest of your life to get started right away.
What's next? Read the Up screenplay!
The "Up" script crushed our hearts in the opening five pages, only to spend the next ninety-five putting it back together. Let's look at some lessons for the script.
Click the link to learn more!