Study Guide

When Harry Met Sally Sally Albright (Meg Ryan)

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Sally Albright (Meg Ryan)

In one of their many conversations, Harry makes a rather piercing observation of Sally Albright:

HARRY: There are two kinds of women. High-maintenance and low-maintenance.[…]

SALLY: Which one am I?

HARRY: You're the worst kind. You're high-maintenance but you think you're low-maintenance.

SALLY: I don't see that.

HARRY: You don't see that? Waiter, I'll begin with a house salad, but I don't want the regular dressing. I'll have the Balsamic vinegar and oil, but on the side. And then the salmon with the mustard sauce, but I want the mustard sauce on the side. On the side is a very big thing for you.

SALLY: Well I just want it the way I want it.

HARRY: I know. High-maintenance.

Confession: we kindasorta agree with Harry, even if his musings do have some sexist undertones. See, Sally isn't exactly what we would call low-maintenance. We see it from the get-go, when she has a schedule and a plan all worked out for her and Harry's road trip. She's picky, a wee bit neurotic (remember how long it took her to mail all her letters, after she had to check and make sure each individual one slid down all the way into the mailbox?), and oh so organized. Remember, this is a woman who alphabetizes her videotapes on index cards.

But does that actually make her high-maintenance?

Maybe. Maybe not.

Sally Albright is a Sally Do-Right

One thing is clear: Sally's good qualities far outweigh her neuroses. She's a fierce friend who isn't afraid to call Harry or Marie on their shenanigans. Every time Marie mentions her married boyfriend, Sally reminds her that he's never going to leave his wife. While this might seem a little cold-hearted, it's also the cold, hard truth. And what are friends for if not for telling you the cold, hard truth?

And as for Harry, well, she's just as fierce a friend to him, too. When he blows up at Jess and Marie, telling them that their marriage will go the way of Harry and Helen's, Sally calls him out, saying, "Harry, you're going to have to try and find a way of not expressing every feeling that you have, every moment that you have them. […] There are times and places for things."

"Ms. Hospital Corners"

But then again, just a few seconds later, Harry makes yet another astute, if hard-to-hear, observation: "I mean, nothing bothers you! You never get upset about anything!"

What's Harry really getting at? Well, he thinks—and Shmoop tends to agree—that Sally's "nothing bothers me" attitude is a front for the fact that she actually is quite bothered. Sally's precision and persnicketyness stem from the fact that there's one big thing she can't control: her love life. She may pretend she's over Joe, but it's clear a few scenes later that she very much isn't.

It's worth noting that Sally's the one who, leaning on Harry in a moment of vulnerability, takes their relationship to the next level. Definitely not a "Ms. Hospital Corners" move. She's the one who jumps in, who takes the leap. Harry? He's left playing catch-up.

Happily Ever After With Harry

Here's the thing about Sally: while we argue that Harry changes a great deal over the course of the movie, Sally remains pretty true to her lovably neurotic core. Sure, she loosens up a bit, but the final interview scene tells you that when it comes down to it, Sally likes things the way she likes them.

And that's precisely the point. Sally doesn't need fixing because Harry loves her the way she is—crinkle above the nose and all. Sally's biggest development is that she manages to get over Joe, and thus finds herself open to accepting Harry's love. Once she truly believes she's not his consolation prize, of course.

So, Wait. Can Men and Women Be Friends?

And about that ending. Since the movie ends up with Sally blissfully in love with her bestie, Harry, does that mean that she was wrong—that men and women can't be friends after all?

She seemed so miffed at Harry's assertion at the beginning of the movie, but by the end, she's proving him right—they aren't friends. They're much more. They're romantically involved. But to be fair, we're not sure if that proves Harry right in general so much as it proves Harry right in this particular case.

But it is worth noting that the movie's central question isn't exactly the most forward-thinking, progressive, or feminist idea. We 21st-century folks might point out that Harry's argument basically boils down to the idea that men always want sex, and what a woman wants out of a friendship is totally subsumed by that fact. Stereotype, much?

And really, for much of the movie, one could argue that Sally is depicted as the neurotic, controlling woman who nags at Harry, the overly sexual but emotionally obtuse man. These gender stereotypes are present in all sorts of romantic comedies throughout the ages, but it's interesting that a movie that so revolutionized the form didn't do much to flip those old-school gender norms on their heads. But it's also worth noting that Harry and Sally are also much more than these stereotypes. Perhaps that's the point?

Meg's Magic

We could go on and on about what Meg Ryan brings to her performance, but we think it's perfectly summed up by this one, wonderful fact: it was Meg Ryan's idea to actually fake the orgasm in the diner scene.

Brilliance. Sheer brilliance.

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