Sally and Harry would be eligible for their AARP cards today, but their romance has aged gracefully.
This month marks the 25th anniversary of When Harry Met Sally, a delightful classic that set a new standard for romantic comedies when it came out in July 1989.
Written by Nora Ephron, directed by Rob Reiner and starring Meg Ryan as the lovable control freak Sally Albright and Billy Crystal as the wise-cracking, sometimes abrasive, Harry Burns, it struck a chord. Audiences loved its witty exchanges, charming sense of honesty and romantic New York locations.
The line "I'll have what she's having" is an iconic movie quip that has made its way into the popular lexicon, originating from the film's most memorable scene — Sally demonstrating a fake orgasm inside Katz's Deli. The line was uttered by a deli patron sitting nearby, played by Reiner's mother, Estelle.
"I just get a kick out of the fact that my mother says a line listed as one of the top lines in movie history," says Reiner, who reminisced about the movie with USA TODAY. "They link it with Clark Gable saying 'Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.' There's Clark Gable and there's Estelle Reiner."
The film's style has been widely copied in the ensuing years, though no rom-com since has come close to capturing the hearts of viewers quite like When Harry Met Sally.
"I saw it when it came out and continue to watch it over and over," says Marguerita Drew, 47, a high school English teacher from Pasadena, Calif. "It's one of my all-time favorite movies. It's so on target and so funny. It so cleverly shows the differences between how men and women think."
It also provides the satirical cornerstone for They Came Together, a spoof of romantic comedies starring Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler, currently in theaters and on VOD.
When Harry Met Sally is "one of the best rom-coms ever made," says David Wain, who directed They Came Together. "It's certainly a movie of its time, but I think the staying power is that it's really, really well done. They're digging deep into truths and things that are truly funny. They talk about friendship in ways that anyone who's been in any relationship can relate to."
Initially, some critics dismissed it as a Woody Allen wannabe, citing similarities with Annie Hall's opening credits and the soundtrack's use of Gershwin. But Wain says that over the years, "I've realized that the real soul and core of that movie is not at all Woody Allen. It's not about the same kinds of anxieties. It's clearly from a different voice and point of view. Everything about that movie that really matters and lasts is not derivative."
Reiner maintains the key is the story's universality. Much of the movie is concerned with whether men and women can be friends, as well as the skirmishes on the dating front lines.
"It's this awkward dance that men and women do with each other and I don't think that changes, no matter what age you are," Reiner says. In his latest movie, And So It Goes, Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton explore romance among sixtysomethings.
The relatability of the actors helped. Neither were stars at the time, Reiner points out.
"Billy Crystal looks like an ordinary guy," Drew says. "And Meg Ryan was cute, but she looks like someone you knew. This could be a slice of anybody's life, a slice of my life."