"Best known for her role as Princess Leia" is the most common phrase you've probably read in obits for Carrie Fisher since the actress, author, and advocate passed away the morning of December 27. For some, another of her iconic roles had a greater impact on our lives, even if we don't realize it: Fisher's Marie, best friend to Sally (Meg Ryan) in When Harry Met Sally. Watch the movie again right now, or just glimpse a few clips, and you can see that she was the prototype for so many subsequent grown-up female characters on television, in movies, and in real life. With her frank approach to love and marriage, she was all of Carrie Bradshaw's friends, five years before Candace Bushnell began her "Sex and the City" column in the New York Observer. This is, of course, due in large part to the wit of screenwriter Nora Ephron. But it's Fisher's wry, scene-stealing delivery in every one of her scenes that cemented the character as a cultural touchstone. We first meet Marie 23 minutes into the 1989 movie, as she, Sally, and another friend Alice (Lisa Jane Persky) eat lunch at Loeb Boathouse in Central Park. She starts off the scene complaining about finding a receipt in her boyfriend's pocket for a $1600 dining room table he bought with his wife. The dialogue could be coming straight out of Miranda's mouth and we wouldn't flinch. When Sally speaks up to reveal that she broke up with her boyfriend, Marie doesn't skip a beat before asking, "You mean Joe's available?" Don't worry, though; she's a true friend written by Ephron, not a soap-opera cliché, so the joke is implicit. Then, in a truly '80s gesture, Marie reaches into her briefcase and pulls out a Rolodex to find someone for Sally to date. It's not too soon, she rationalizes, because the right man may be ready, and, "If you don't grab him, someone else will, and you'll have to spend the rest of your life knowing that someone else is married to your husband."
There's a lot that's troublesome about this conversation to our 2016 ears. Why does Sally need a husband? The "biological clock" BS they bring up is such a tool of patriarchal oppression. At the same time, Marie's proactive attitude about dating is unusual for an '80s rom-com. She doesn't want her friend to sit back and wait for her prince. If she wants a man, she should go out and get one. (And if he happens to be married, let's just fold down the corner on that index card for now.)
Later in the movie, a blind double date between Marie and Harry (Billy Crystal), and his best friend Jess (the late Bruno Kirby) and Sally goes in an unexpected direction. Marie and Jess are attracted to each other in conversation first and foremost, and they go on to model what a grown-up relationship between equals might look like. In another scene, their argument over his hideous wagon-wheel coffee table is a peek into the healthy banter of a fully formed relationship between adults.
"Tell me I'll never have to go out there again," Marie begs Jess, after the two get together. They're the perfect juxtaposition to Sally and Harry's fumbling friendship. No, Marie doesn't save her galaxy from a dark, evil force. What she did was give a voice to a new era of women who talk about love and sex as something we're entitled to desire and pursue. It's not that women didn't talk to each other like this before, but they certainly didn't do so on our screens. Fisher's character delivered that fresh candor in a movie people watched and quoted for decades. That's why I'm declaring Marie the godmother of the SATC foursome, not to mention Girls' Jessa, Marnie, Shosh, and Hannah. She is also the progenitor of our own morning-after brunch conversations with our BFFs.
We'll miss you, Carrie Fisher, and we'll mourn Leia, too — but it feels like Marie will still be with us for quite a while.