I will let you in on a little secret: I never got around to watching When Harry Met Sally. Yes, I know it is a Nora Ephron classic. Yes, I know it is very funny. Yes, I definitely know about the “I’ll have what she’s having” scene. However, most rom-coms made before 1995 have simply never made it in front of my eyeballs (please don’t make me lie to you about Sleepless In Seattle).
However, I finally decided to make amends for my sins against pop culture now that When Harry Met Sally is approaching its 30-year anniversary, which arrives on Friday, July 12. I woke up early on a Tuesday morning to enjoy 95-minutes of Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal dancing around each other in very comfortable looking sweaters and denim. While the 1989 flick more than lives up to the hype, I realized everyone has been lying to me — and, possibly themselves — about it. Because Meg Ryan faking an orgasm might be good, as she so famously does as Sally Albright, but there is so much better content hiding in When Harry Met Sally.
The iconic Katz's Deli-set scene comes at precisely the half-way mark of the movie. It’s easy to feel like the entire 40-something-minute chunk beforehand is just a gateway to one of the rom-com canon’s most important moments. Ryan sells it as Sally, then dubious friend to Crystal’s Harry Burns. Harry thinks every woman he has ever slept with was perfectly satiated by his alleged sexual prowess. Sally, in great theatrical fashion, proves just how convincingly a woman can fake an orgasm. Everyone else in the restaurant sees a woman go through a full climax down down to heavy sighs of a comedown with little explanation. It’s impossible not to wonder if a confusingly deconstructed turkey sandwich and Katz coleslaw really is that good.
It’s a weirdo display destined to be YouTubed over and over again. Yet, Sally and Harry share an even more memorable, more meme-ready encounter towards the end of the film. By this point, the titular pair have slept together at last, consummating over a decade of simmering sexual tension. They both think the hookup was a mistake, but Sally eventually becomes annoyed by how little Harry wants to talk about it. Their tension culminates in a whisper argument at the fringes of their best friends’ (Carrie Fisher and Bruno Kirby) wedding. Harry urges Sally to let go of any awkwardness lingering about their hookup, which went down just three weeks earlier.
“You know how a year to a person is like seven years to a dog?” he says, as if that helps the situation.
The exchange that follows includes the best lines of dialogue in When Harry Met Sally. “Is one of us supposed to be a dog in this scenario?” Sally asks. Yes. “Who is the dog?” she continues. It’s her; she is the dog, according to Harry. So, Meg Ryan, in full 1980s maid of honor gear, has to incredulously chant, “I am? I am the dog? I am the dog?!” before finally adding, “If anybody is the dog, you are the dog.”
It is impossible to believe “You are the dog,” has not become America’s leading breakup phrase over the last three decades. Your partner forgets your birthday? They are the dog. Your hookup buddy wants all the privileges of a significant other without the commitments and title? They are the dog. Does your longtime close friend want to make out in front of a CVS, tell you they love you, and then never speak about it again? They are definitely the dog! It is a few seconds of cinematic history perfectly made for Instagram story shade and Twitter reactions.
While Sally’s dog exchange is hilarious, it also speaks to what makes the movie so special. It’s about two people inexplicably drawn together despite their wildly opposing viewpoints — and Harry’s habit of saying terrible, rude comments like comparing a recent hookup to a pooch. They both truly believe the other is the dog in this fight. They’re both a little bit right (Sally is far more right). And, they’re both totally obsessed with each other, no matter what.
That is why there’s yet another scene in the rom-com that deserves to be Pinterested to death, yet has never gotten the attention it deserves. It comes a few minutes after the dog argument, when Sally has been dodging Harry’s calls for days, if not weeks. She finally answers, and he asks if she wants to be his date to an upcoming New Year’s Eve party. As non-committal platonic pals, of course. “I am not your consolation prize — goodbye,” Sally says, hanging up the phone. It’s a powerful moment of a woman finally announcing what she needs from the nebulous man in her life.
It’s shocking that there is not an entire cottage industry dedicated to turning that very snappy quote into iPhone cases, canvas prints, graphic t-shirts, and every other product that can fit seven words. Again, the line not only works on its own, but adds to the greater movie at large. Sally doesn’t want to be Harry’s distraction as he stumbles his way towards The One. She wants to be with him because he’s desperately, madly in love with her.
Sally's final stance is what gives Harry's end-of-movie realization a real emotional wallop. Harry and Sally end up together because the former realizes all of the latter’s Type-A quirks aren’t drawbacks. Instead, they’re the exact reason Harry should love someone as “challenging” as Sally.
So, I'll have what she's having, as long as I get to tell off a terrible quasi-boyfriend afterwards.