Sali Hughes on the films that shaped her life #14: THE FILM THAT BUILT A CAREER — WHEN HARRY MET SALLY
Harry: Why don’t you tell me the story of your life? Sally: The story of my life?
Harry: We’ve got 18 hours to kill before we hit New York.
Sally: The story of my life isn’t even going to get us out of Chicago. I mean, nothing’s happened to me yet. That’s why I’m going to New York.
Harry: So something can happen to you? Like what?
Sally: Like I’m going to journalism school so I can become a reporter…
I first saw When Harry Met Sally with my exceptionally crap boyfriend, in early 1990, shortly before I left home for London. I had neither car nor licence — never mind a wisecracking driving companion with whom to share a slice of roadside diner pie and some of the wittiest dialogue of all time. I had no college course to begin, no real plan. But my intention was the same as the eponymous Sally Albright’s. I would move to the big city and become a journalist — only then would I believe my life had truly begun.
When your immediate surroundings are filled with screwed-over miners, dinner ladies, shopkeepers and the unemployed, film and television can offer the only alternative peek at your future. Some children were no doubt inspired to become astronauts by Apollo 13. I dare say Dirty Dancing saw dance classes flooded with wannabe Johnny Castles and Baby Housemans. When Harry Met Sally just happened to show me something I felt I could conceivably become, while little else around me even hinted at the possibility of career success. With literally no intention but to write, I essentially decided “I’ll have what she’s having”.
Sally wasn’t the first film journalist to inspire me. At six, I got my granddad to buy me a reporter’s notebook, so I could scribble down my thoughts like I’d seen Lois Lane doing in Superman. My father had shown me All The President’s Men and I’d felt intoxicated by the energy, jeopardy and thrill of the Washington Post newsroom. But before Meg Ryan’s Sally Albright, my most beloved female film protagonists had been goddess-like: adored, exceptional, untouchable. In Sally, I had an altogether different version of womanhood. Flawed, ambitious, vulnerable, driven, defensive and loyal, Sally is a real person who follows her dream without stepping over the friendships and relationships in her path. This blasé lack of focus on Sally’s job made her working life all the more inspiring. She and best friend and PR Marie (played to perfection by Carrie Fisher) are just successful jobbing professionals. There’s no sense of them clawing their way up, kicking arse in morning conference, or feeling threatened that younger journalists are nipping at their red suede pumps. They’re just women who go to work and do a great job — why wouldn’t they? Intentional or not, it was an immensely empowering message to a 15-year-old girl.
It worked out well. Writing commissions came in, invoices went out, rent ultimately got paid and I watched When Harry Met Sally so many times that I now know Nora Ephron’s words more fluently than my own. And in the process, she made me realise that achieving your ambition, if lucky enough, is only one part of a bigger, richer life. You also need mates, jokes and a best friend and lover, who knows just how you like your pie.