MOVIE MEMOIRS

Empire (UK) - - RE.VIEW - DAVID MAHONEY ILLUSTRATION

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.

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