When Harry Met Sally Can’t Be Successfully Updated

by Benjamin Hall

When Harry Met Sally… is a 1989 romantic comedy movie about Harry Burns (played by Billy Crystal) and Sally Albright (played by Meg Ryan) and the question “Can men and women be friends?” It is a movie that is very much of its time in the sense that it could not be remade today. To be more specific, it has three elements that would not work in an update of the movie. These elements are: The way in which the characters communicate, the fact that people who are LGBTQ don’t factor into the central question, and in the presentation of natural reactions.

The way characters communicate is either in person or via a phone call in the film. This is because cellphones were big clunky things that few used in daily life, and social media did not exist. Thus Sally and Harry don’t have devices distracting them during their various conversations and they can give each other their full attention. Also this means that there are less possible reasons to compare Harry repeatedly calling and being screened by Sally to full-on harassment. Not to mention that Sally does not look more neglectful in positively communicating her wish to end the friendship when she is not answering him. These two possible comparisons would be more likely to happen if social media and smartphones got put into any potential update.

The central question of “Can men and women be friends?” is brought up without people who are LGBTQ being considered. Yes, this dates the movie and is a reason to attempt an update. However, one has to consider that this movie got made during a specific time frame when people would not talk openly (or positively) about people who are LGBTQ. Also the movie’s main query is about heterosexual couples and friendships featuring the opposite gender. The question as set-up in the movie states that said friend would potentially be seen as a romantic or sexual rival, especially if the friend is single. Also, the movie is rather simple, and thus adding LGBTQ friendships or relationships in an update would complicate the storyline. In other words, instead of the original simple answer, the update’s answer would need to become more complex.

The last element, natural reactions, is something that we see a few instances of in the movie. The first happens during the 1977 diner/restaurant scene when Sally states she has had “good sex!” in response to an accusation by Harry. After she makes that exclamation, everyone else in the shot reacts in the natural way of turning to look at her (including one guy who looks and then obviously checks her out). While another occurs when Harry and Sally are at a museum and Meg Ryan turns to ask for direction about a bit of improvisation. It is random moments like these that an update would not be able to redo without seeming fake. The film relies on natural reactions.

In conclusion, while When Harry Met Sally… will probably get remade at some point, bringing it up to date with our times, reenacting certain moments will be next to impossible.

Benjamin Hall

Among Benjamin Hall's many credits he is the creator and writer of the comic Time Trio; a writer/editor of various works for Sequart Organization; Blogger for Rippersspot.blogspot.com; a columnist for Comicon. He holds a Bachelor's in film studies and a Master's Degree in Media Communications. He is also an Aspie.

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