When Harry Met Sally… (1989) Screenplay Analysis

When Harry Met Sally… (1989), written by Nora Ephron, was a surprisingly great read that has stood the test of time.

Script Formatting Notes

  • Draft Read: “8/23/88 pink”
  • Type: Spec
  • Page Count: 137
  • Reading Speed: Fast
  • Setting(s): New York City
  • Plot Structure: Linear, Spanning a decade
  • Genre(s): Rom-com
  • Theme(s): Love, Fulfilling one’s Destiney, Friendship, Coming-of-age
  • Protagonist Change: Significant

Overall Thoughts

There are moments in life where you know you are in the presence of greatness, and reading When Harry Met Sally… is almost, kinda, I think, just about, one of those times. It’s an absolute delight, perhaps the best comedy I’ve read to date. In many ways the script feels like a precursor to Seinfeld. It’s dumb, witty, a bit slapstick and embraces awkward moments to create a hilarious read. What’s more to say?

Script Strengths

I took an acting class recently and the teacher shared a story: Not long ago he attended a grade-school play. The acting? Poor, in his opinion, except for a couple cast members: Two kids who didn’t seem to give a fuck. Why’s that? In his words, “They were on the spectrum.” In other words, embrace the awkwardness. And this script has a lot of awkwardness.

The story is about two people caught up in their own worlds. They’re so out of touch that it’s funny. One review noted that the characters are neurotics, but that really isn’t the case. They’re just odd ducks. And the writer makes sure to note that out at every possible point (Page 28):

They look at each other. And shake hands. Though they have said goodbye, they are now in that awkward place of still going in the same direction. After a beat:


I’m going to stop walking for a minute and let you get ahead.

How about Page 32:


How’ve you been sleeping?


Not great. Maybe I’m coming down with something. Last night I was up at four in the morning watching Leave It To Beaver in Spanish.


Buenos dias, Senora Cleaver. Donde esta Wallace y Theodore?

(as himself)

I’m not well.

So while there is some self-awareness, it’s so farcical that it’s funny. And that covers about 90% of the comedy in this screenplay.

Script Neutrals

I don’t love the ending. I know, it’s the standard, formulaic, rom-com they get together and everyone is happy and lives happily ever after ending… but I just, well, don’t feel the love. I’m not going to dive into it, but it relies too heavily on Harry’s monologue. And while they are great lines, they lose the spark that was lit earlier in the script when there were frequent back-and-forths between Harry and Sally. That actually makes quite a bit of logical sense, as the playful entertainment factor is lost and the characters become a step more normal… and boring.

The elderly couples talking about how they met. Man, the frequent interview intercuts are tricky. They eat up valueable airtime and remove the viewer from the story. But they’re funny and lighthearted, and allow the viewer time to reflect on what they are learning… and for the writer to share important themes from different perspectives. And to top it off, the narrative technique feels dated, although I can’t recall seeing it used before. The true definition of script neutral; could be pulled off well, could fall flat.

Script Weaknesses

None to note.


The script starts and it appears like it is going to be a road trip movie, but in reality it jumps into episodic snapshots of the two lead’s lives as they occasionally encounter each other. The plot is insignificant, it’s the interactions between the characters that makes it a great read.


The characters are just plain weird. People who say everything they’re thinking, and friends who go along like that’s totally normal. It’s almost like they’re living in a 2D world and we’re in 3D, so we can see right through to their cores.

But the one thing that is somewhat complex is each character’s evolving view of love. And in each conversation a character either promotes a new theory or asks for clarification of an existing one. This is usually met with some resistance and debate, before agreement, with some characters, notably Marie, even having catchphrases (Page 67):


If Arthur ever left his wife and I actually met him, I’m sure you and I would drift apart.


He’s never going to leave her.


Of course he isn’t.


Your’re right, you’re right, I know you’re right.

When was the last time a debate ended with the other person agreeing with you?

Dialogue & Pacing

No additional notes on dialogue.

No notes on pacing.

Emotional Impact

It’s a fun, entertaining script. It makes light of a lot of prevailing views in regard to relationships, and what makes a great one. Is it especially deep? Not really. But if the target audience is self-centered people in their 20s and 30s, I think they could get something from this… Whether that something is the right message, I’m not sure.

Best Part of The Script

There are so many great parts it would be a travesty to pick just one. A couple that come to mind: Harry talking to his friend and being interrupted by the wave at the football game and Harry and Sally calling their friends after they had sex. But really, the whole script is worth a read.

What’s your take on the wagon wheel coffee table?