Harry Burns and Sally Albright first meet when they share a drive from college in Chicago to New York City. He's seeing her friend Amanda and comes on to her; she turns him down but says they can be friends. He points out that the guy friend will always be attracted to the female friend and want to sleep with her, thus they decide not to be friends. They revisit the question five years later when they are both taken and run into each other in an airport, once again resolving that no, they cannot.Five years later, both of them re-meet after having been dumped by their other halves, and become friends. They resolve to just be friends... for most of the movie they succeed in this. Their relationship has little sexual tension, and is punctuated by extended conversations where they discuss love, friendship, scatological humor and Casablanca. The Aesop seems to be that people really need friendships- the nonsexual comfort zone Harry and Sally establish with each other is what allows them to move on from their failed relationships. To each other, in case you haven't figured that out yet.In terms of the Romantic Comedy genre, this movie's main contribution was its popularization of Contemplate Our Navels as a form of Character Development and emotional connection — Harry and Sally are defined almost entirely by their interactions with each other. What external factors do exist they usually discuss with each other directly and personally.Viewers familiar with the modern Rom Com may be caught off-guard, as this movie lacks the High Concept and Hotter and Sexier tropes the genre is famous for. There's almost no sex or even provocative clothing. There's vastly more scenes of people in bed, alone, wearing pyjamas and talking on the phone than getting their sex on. The "R" rating was likely due to the famed restaurant scene and couple of swearwords.Billy Crystal and director Rob Reiner recently appeared in a spoof trailer on FunnyOrDie.com for When Harry Met Sally 2, where Executive Meddling has turned a continuation of the original film into a shameless cashing in on the vampire craze.
I'd like some Trope on the side:
'70s Hair: Sally is sporting Farrah hair in college.
Values Dissonance: Harry mentions that she's keeping her maiden name (presumably for business purposes) during his engagement. This is clearly meant as foreshadowing since Helen's not that into Harry and will ditch him at the first opportunity. In a post-feminist world, taking your husband's last name isn't really a qualifier.
Analogy Backfire: Harry articulating why enough time has passed that he can ignore having sex with Sally that one time. Also a hint that he's sliding back into his old, insufferable self.
Harry: You know how a year to a person is like seven years to a dog?
Sally [beat] Is one of us supposed to be a dog in this scenario?
California Doubling: They drive off the University of Chicago campus on the south side to New York.... via a picturesque segment of Lake Shore Drive headed toward the south side [Did they have to visit a friend at Northwestern, Depaul or Loyola first?]
The Cameo: The director's mother Estelle Reiner as the "I'll have what she's having" woman.
Catchphrase: You're right. You're right. I know you're right."
Chekhov's Gun: Harry roping Sally into singing a show tune duet. He apparently bought the karaoke machine, because he uses it to serenade Sally in apology later.
Foreshadowing: Helen opting to keep her surname. (It should be noted that plenty of happily-married women keep their surname, but it's definitely meant to be ominous here.)
Also, Harry's confession that his dates always end with him desperate to pull his clothes on and flee out the door.
Freak Out!: Harry has a meltdown after bumping into his ex and her new boyfriend at The Sharper Image. Sally seems to be showing more maturity than he — that is, until she hears about Joe's engagement.
*beep* "Hi, it's me! It is the holiday season and I thought I'd just remind you that this is the season for charity and forgiveness. And although it's not widely known, it is also the season of groveling. So if you felt like calling me back, I'd be more than happy to do the traditional Christmas grovel."
Real Life Writes the Plot: The movie was based on Director Rob Reiner's own dating experiences and frustrations (he was recovering from a divorce just as Harry was), and, as he was single at the time, originally Harry would not get with Sally at the end. The decision of the happier ending where they get together apparently was a result of Reiner meeting and eventually marrying a woman during the film's production.
Soundtrack Dissonance: Harry mistakenly sings a song from Oklahoma! in a department store, summoning his ex-wife and her boyfriend over. "Surry With a Fringe on Top" continues to blare over the awkward silence.
Your Cheating Heart: Marie has a long-term affair with the married Arthur. Sally continually reminds her that Arthur is never going to leave his wife; Marie always agrees, but a few scenes later, she's discussing him yet again...