I Really Dislike the Orgasm Scene In When Harry Met Sally and Here I’ll Tell You Why
I have nothing against Meg Ryan. I like Meg Ryan, I’ve always liked her. She was my first major celebrity crush after seeing Innerspace. She’s been wonderful in many things. She was even wonderful in When Harry Met Sally. But the orgasm scene drives me bonkers because it’s so excessively celebrated and it’s a bad scene. Let me explain.
The whole point of the scene is that Harry claims he can tell when a woman is faking an orgasm. Sally disagrees. And to make her point, in the middle of a crowded diner, she fakes an orgasm. Except it’s one of the laziest, most clichéd, most unconvincingly phony orgasms ever put on screen. But of course the film and all the characters act as if she just proved him wrong. They even throw in that stupid, cutesy line from the patron played by director Rob Reiner’s mom.
Not only do I have doubts after watching this scene about whether Meg Ryan has ever actually had an orgasm, I have doubts about whether she had actually had sex at that point in her life. Her faked orgasm is right out of a Mel Brooks comedy or a run of the mill rom-com from the 60’s. Which is fine, except, and I’ll reiterate here, the point is to show Harry that he would never be able to tell if a woman is faking. If a woman did that during sex as a sincere attempt to convince me, I’d be more than a little insulted that she would think so little of me.
Something else that I find irksome, I come to find out that after a few takes of her not getting there, Reiner himself actually sat across from Crystal and acted it out as an example to her. So to clarify, in a scene, the premise of which is a man is arguing that he can tell when a woman is faking an orgasm and so a woman fakes one right in front of said man to show him how easy it is to fool him, the orgasm in question is designed by a man, the sex that gets fooled, and not a woman, the sex that does the fooling.
Would it have been better if she launched into an uncomfortably real, maybe even unflatteringly unguarded orgasm, right there in a crowded diner? I think it certainly would’ve been funnier. Think about how it would elevate Billy Crystal’s reaction, think about how funny the cutesy stupid-ass line from the old lady becomes. But it would also make audiences uncomfortable because female sexuality tends to make people uncomfortable and for my money, that’s where the scene really could’ve been used to say something and be worthy of the praise it receives.
And if it wasn’t praised so much it wouldn’t bother me. If it wasn’t held in such high regard as some high water mark of comedy or treated as such brave acting on the part of Ryan or if an otherwise charming and smart romantic comedy wasn’t always singled out for this scene as if it’s the only thing in it, I wouldn’t be writing this right now. It’s one of the most overpraised, overrated scenes I’ve ever seen.