Foes to friends to lovers. I’ve enjoyed this romcom formula since I first saw William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. There’s something magic about that moment before characters realize their world view is changing. The 1989 film When Harry Met Sally lived in that moment. She helps him grow up. He helps her calm down. Over the years they cheer each other’s victories and salve each other’s wounds. When they realize they’ve fallen in love it makes sense.
The Thing About Harry pays homage to When Harry Met Sally. But it fast forwards through that vital friendship stage. Harry, a pansexual player, apologizes to Sam, a high-strung perfectionist, for bullying him in high school. They go on a road trip, establish a dynamic and grow close. Then an outside distraction pulls them apart. Those first 20 minutes are the film at its best. But Sam and Harry will reconnect over the years, repeating the same routine with diminishing returns.
I liked this movie but I’d wanted to love it. Jake Borelli’s Sam is introduced as your typical romcom protagonist. Insecure, neurotic and adorable. Niko Terho’s Harry is a fantasy Prince Charming. Handsome, compassionate and supportive. But things go south around the 30-minute mark. They’ve reunited and Harry’s still smitten. His arc is nearly complete. But Sam is insecure. He’s convinced Harry is making bedroom eyes at everyone, though the audience knows they’re only for Sam. He’ll spend the rest of the film insulting Harry and pushing him away.
Television has deconstructed the romcom in brilliant shows like You’re The Worst and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. They expose the underlying issues these characters need to address before they can maintain a healthy relationship. I assumed that director and co-writer Peter Paige was moving in that direction. That he was about to dig deep into Sam’s cruelty, alcoholism and self-loathing. Instead Peter Paige inserts himself into the film as a wise landlord. He tells Sam that he just needs to put himself out there, learn to trust and accept that he “deserves love.” I disagree, but those are my own issues. Paige comes not to bury the romcom but to praise it. Sam takes after the Julia Roberts, Sandra Bullock and Kate Hudson characters who were celebrated for their flaws.
The Thing About Harry has been marketed as one of the first gay romcoms. It’s closer the 70th. But when you consider how many straight romcoms there are that’s still a drop in the bucket. We can use more and The Thing About Harry is one of the better ones. The filmmaking is solid, the soundtrack is bright and the leading actors are charming. While I can’t give my whole heart to Harry I can appreciate the comforts it offers. If a grinch like Sam deserves love then there’s hope for all of us.
The Thing About Harry premiered on Freeform and is streaming on Hulu. Give it a watch and share your thoughts. What are some of your favorite queer romcoms? Mine are Jeffrey, Like It Is, and Saving Face. My favorite teen romances, Jongens and The Way He Looks, lean closer to drama than comedy. I’ve also a soft spot for I Think I Do, which suffers from its own sour protagonist. For favorite straight romcoms I go farther back to 1940’s The Shop Around the Corner.