When crafting a romantic comedy, there are a few films that are widely considered to make up the gold standard—and believe it or not, they’re not generally associated with Nicholas Sparks. When people discuss the greatest romantic comedies of all time, they often talk about Sleepless in Seattle, Annie Hall, and, inevitably, Rob Reiner’s 1989 rom-com When Harry Met Sally. With Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan in the title roles, When Harry Met Sally gave viewers a lot more than a catchphrase (“I’ll have what she’s having”). It gave viewers a love story for the ages. And it’s one I have never experienced, because I have never seen When Harry Met Sally.
It’s a fact that I’m reminded of today, on the 25-year anniversary of the film’s limited release, when Vulture claims the film “revolutionized the romantic comedy” and Indiewire says it created a new standard for romantic comedies by being “as close to perfect as a latter-day example of the rom-com can be.” EW gave the collector’s DVD a great review in 2008. And yet here I sit, completely clueless—and honestly, not feeling that bad about it.
Sure, you could claim that my getting through a film minor and writing for Entertainment Weekly without ever having seen When Harry Met Sally is some sort of travesty or mistake. Why didn’t I rent it for my 13th birthday party? Why didn’t I watch it on Netflix in college? Why don’t I watch it right now? The answer is three-fold.
First, I can’t say that I ever felt that I needed to see When Harry Met Sally in order to be able to join a conversation about romantic comedies, or about movies, or about love, or about, you know, life. I’ve only seen the “faking it” scene from the film, but considering that that’s what people reference about 95 percent of the time, I rarely find myself feeling out of the loop.
Of course, I’ll never claim that [insert movie here] is the greatest rom-com of all time without seeing When Harry Met Sally first. I’m not crazy. But until the day comes around that I’m asked to identify the greatest rom-com of all time, I’m perfectly happy with my minimal WHMS experience.
Second, I’m now at that point where not watching it has made me feel like a rebel. So it’s likely I’ll keep not watching it solely because everyone and their mother wants me to.
But mostly, it’s because I’m not sure how I feel about Billy Crystal in a romantic role.
To me, Billy Crystal is a comedic genius and the host of all hosts, but I can’t quite handle the thought of him as a romantic lead. Blame my age, but I’ve only ever really experienced a purely comedic Crystal—and I’m not sure I’m ready to add romance to the equation. It has nothing to do with being attracted to Crystal. It’s more so that I feel that my love for him is so established that making him even the least bit romantic in my mind might throw everything off-balance. Pop-culturally, I kind of look at Crystal as my favorite uncle: I want to go to lunch with him, and I want him to make me laugh, but one thing I never want to do is watch him make out with someone. (And I’ll dare to say it: I’m not the biggest Meg Ryan fan, either.)
So if you add together all the aspects of When Harry Met Sally that I feel less-than-enthusiastic about, you might get a better idea of why I haven’t gone out of my way to spend two hours of my life watching it. Being less-than-enthusiastic about a film, even if it’s a classic, doesn’t make me all that likely to try and track it down on DVD. (And this is partly a side effect of my chosen line of work: As someone who sees a very large quantity of movies and is constantly going to the theater, I need a real reason to watch something that’s 25 years old as opposed to seeing something new.)
All this being said, I do understand that this is a classic film that I will watch one day and maybe fall madly in love with. I could very well look back at this post and think “Who was that person?!” I get it. Truly. But for right now, I’m perfectly fine not having what she’s having.