Considering it’s Valentine’s Day week there’s been no shortage of rom-coms playing on TV. And, yes I’ve watched most of them because I am a rom-com connoisseur. Right now I want to discuss Freeform’s newest rom-com The Thing About Harry and all the wonderful amazing things about it.
The Thing About Harry is about Sam, a young gay man, who has to spend a dreaded nine-hour car ride with his high school enemy, Harry, as they drive home from college for their friend’s engagement party.
Now, when I originally heard the logline of this film I was intrigued; however, I was also a bit concerned. How could an 85-minute movie stay contained in a nine-hour road trip and stay interesting? Well, thankfully it didn’t have to.
See, the road trip was just the catalyst for the rest of the film. A brilliant choice made by the film’s writers Peter Paige and Joshua Senter.
So what happens?
Well, Sam (Jake Borelli) tells Harry (Niko Terho) to meet him at his car at 7 am sharp so they can make the trip back home. Of course, Harry is late because “that’s the thing about Harry” and well, Sam is a bit annoyed. Harry spends the first half of their journey telling Sam about how his girlfriend of 3 months has dumbed him because he forgot their anniversary. This escalates and eventually, Harry is confiding in Sam about all his past failed relationships. Sam could care less until Harry mentions that he’s also dated men.
Enter the plot twist — well, not really because it’s mentioned in the logline but that’s a technicality.
Harry informs Sam that he is pansexual. Sam is shocked by the news. So shocked in fact that he winds up swerving into on-coming traffic before crashing into the snowy shoulder of the road. The car, of course, needs to be repaired leaving Sam and Harry stranded in a motel for the night.
That night Sam and Harry open up to each other and Sam realizes that maybe he’s been too harsh on Harry. Everyone deserves the chance to grow and change from high school. Unfortunately, when they make it home Sam finds out that Harry and his girlfriend are back together and that’s the end of that … for now.
Flash forward a year and Sam runs into Harry at a party — the first of many run-ins. Things don’t exactly go well between them, the sexual tension is palpable, and they don’t end up hitting it off this time. A few months later, the two run into each other again when Sam accompanies his boyfriend to his niece’s trivia night. This time things go well and Sam and Harry begin an epic friendship.
Of course, friendships are hard when feelings are involved. While at Chicago Pride, Harry tries to tells Sam that he’s into him but things don’t exactly go as planned. In fact, the day to celebrate love turns into a complete disaster for these two. Ultimately, causing them to have a friend break up — which is admittedly harder than a relationship break up.
But don’t worry, for once we’re getting an LGBTQ film with a happy ending — it just might take a while. And I’m not going to give it away because you need to watch it!
Got it? Good, cause now comes the fun part.
One of the things I loved about The Thing About Harry was that it absolutely nailed the tropes and situations we’ve come to expect in a rom-com but gave them a fresh twist.
The basis of the story is enemies to lovers which is seriously one of my favorite tropes of all time. The Thing About Harry does bring something new to the trope though. For starters, I don’t think Sam and Harry are ever quite enemies. Sam dislikes Harry because of the years of bullying he faced thanks to Harry and his friends but he doesn’t have an “I want to kill this man” hatred for him. On the flip side, Harry doesn’t hate Sam at all. In fact, he’s always admired Sam from afar because of Sam’s ability to be out and proud in their small town.
If I’m being honest, I think the enemy element of this film comes later on into the story and it’s only there because Sam would rather pretend to hate Harry than admit he has feelings for him. He only truly hates Harry after he feels he has betrayed him because of the events that transpire at Chicago Pride.
Moving away from the troupe, another thing I adored about this film was its ability to keep traditional rom-com elements we know and love and put them in an LGTBQ world. Look, it’s no secret that the LGBTQ community is out there having some rom-com worthy romances; unfortunately, Hollywood has never really shown us that until now.
With The Thing About Harry, we get those romantic, lust-filled shots of our characters sneakily watching the other one change without them knowing. We get a deep and heartfelt conversation between Sam and Harry where they open up to each other about their lives — even the mundane things like their favorite movie. Harry gets bonus points for admitting that his favorite movie of all time is Pixar’s Up. We get those suspense-filled moments where we’re on the edge of our seat, shouting at them to “kiss already.” We get those angst-filled moments where the leads are ripped from each other and are convinced that they’re never going to get their happy ending together, culminating in Sam blocking Harry on social media. The ultimate millennial and gen-z betrayal. Oh yeah, and we get an epic romantic grand gesture with a swoon worthy speech, just like we should.
It’s literally everything we know and love about a rom-com and yet, so much better because it’s inclusive.
So yeah, Hollywood better step it up now because if Freeform can pull off a queer rom-com with a cable TV budget, than surely the rest of Hollywood can do the same.
I’d also like to point out that the Peter Paige (director, exec. producer, co-writer, and actor in The Thing About Harry) made the right choice in deciding to explore a queer relationship where the couple consists of a gay man and a pansexual man.
Paige told TV Line that he made the choice because he wanted the film to be as relatable and authentic to the generation it was trying to represent.
“It just became really clear to me, as I was thinking about young people, they talk about sexuality in a different way than my generation did. It’s very, very multifaceted, and just having this movie be about two guys identifying as gay, I just thought the odds of that are kind of slim, and it’s not the freshest, most modern, most accurate take on the generation that I was writing about.” – Peter Paige for TV Line
Choosing to have Harry identify as a pansexual man is extremely important and powerful. Especially because we get to see and hear him say he’s pansexual out loud. With only a handful of characters in popular culture who identify as pansexual on screen, every bit of representation helps.
I also think choosing to have Harry identify as something other than gay, allowed for Paige and Joshua Senter to explore the misconceptions about pansexuality and how even in the LGBTQ community there can be some resistance to how one identifies their sexuality.
In fact, on more than one occasion we see Sam belittle Harry for his sexuality. He even goes as far as calling him a slut because of it. Now, one could argue that Sam isn’t calling Harry a slut because of his sexuality but rather his promiscuity and desire to have sex with whoever he deems attractive, but the critique is still there. And it’s something I wish was explored a little bit better. If anything, I wanted Harry to defend himself more.
Harry could have been just as promiscuous and had just as many sexual partners if he was gay, but because he identifies as pansexual the narrative unintentionally shifts to support the incorrect idea that pansexual means you’ll sleep with anyone who gives you the time of day. And that’s not a fair idea to uphold especially in a film that’s striving to be inclusive for the queer community.
Another one of my biggest critiques comes with the film’s conclusion, so stop reading if you haven’t watched it yet.
After Sam and Harry finally get together, Sam wakes up the next morning happy to be next to Harry. While Harry is happy, Sam can tell something is bothering him. After some coaxing, Harry admits that he just got a job offer in Los Angeles and he has to move. Sam freaks out fearing this another one of Harry’s attempts to flee in a relationship before things get real because “that’s the thing about Harry.”
It’s your traditional all is lost moment, until Harry realizes he doesn’t care about anything else as long as he has Sam in his life. One grand gesture and the confession that he won’t be taking the job in Los Angeles later and well Sam and Harry are happily together.
My issue with this scene is that Harry had to give up a career move, something he had been struggling with over the entire film, in order to be with Sam. Now, yes, in the beginning, it’s established that Harry has a hard time envisioning himself as an adult in the working world and instead preferred the vision of himself as a loving father.
With that knowledge, some might say that Harry never wanted to take the LA job in the first place because it wasn’t really his dream, to begin with. One might go even further to say that it’s a progressive decision, having Harry leave the working world for the domestic sphere instead because he derails our traditional gender roles of what we expect.
And while that is a valid statement and could very well be true, I’m still going to play devil’s advocate.
To me, having Harry have to give up the job offer in LA to be with Sam felt like the outdated heterosexual solution we find a lot in romance centric movies. Someone always has to give something up and oftentimes, in those straight movies, the woman is the one to give up her career to be a parent.
The real issue I have with this trope if you could call it that, is that it establishes that only one part of a couple has to compromise for love.
Though Harry said he didn’t mind giving up the job to be with Sam, he still had to give something up to prove himself worthy of Sam’s love. What did Sam have to give up? Sure, he had to admit that his theory that men can’t go from friends to lovers was wrong but that’s hardly a compromise.
To me, it felt like Harry wasn’t good enough for Sam unless he proved himself to him and that’s a load of bullshit.
With that being said, I would like to talk about one more thing about The Thing About Harry that I loved, and that’s Sam’s theory.
In the film, Sam has been struggling with a break-up for several months now. We learn a bit later that he and Malcolm, his ex, were best friends before they had sex and decided to be together. Over the course of their relationship, they stopped having sex and eventually, Sam learned that Malcolm had been cheating on him. Thus, Sam lost his best friend and his boyfriend all at the same time.
Since Sam had such a bad experience dating a best friend, he’s decided that no queer man can go from being best friends to dating without it ruining everything. Straight people have a chance at making it work but not queer men.
Ultimately, this idea and his fear of ruining everything are what keeps Sam from being honest with Harry and what drives Harry away from him because he’s hopelessly in love with Sam.
I think it’s something really interesting that the film explores. Obviously, we know the “friendzone” exists in the heterosexual world and of course, it was bound to be evident in the queer world as well. But, Sam’s absolute adamance that you should never cross that the line from friends to sexual partners if you are a queer man was an interesting take on the whole issue.
In the end, he ends up half right and half wrong. Yeah, falling in love with Harry did ruin his friendship with him but that’s only because Sam let his fear of being hurt stop him from accepting and expressing his true feelings towards Harry. When he finally decided that this was something worth getting hurt over he got his best friend back and he got the epic fairytale relationship he had been chasing the whole time.
At the end of the day, that’s what rom-coms are about. Reminding us that we have to put ourselves out there even if it means we might get hurt. Reminding ourselves that being hurt isn’t necessarily a bad thing because it means our feelings were real. The Thing About Harry takes this one step further by reminding us that we are all, regardless of our identities, deserving of a fairytale love story.
In the end, I give The Thing About Harry a solid 8.5 out of 10. It proved that queer people deserve an epic rom-com story and that it can be just as successful as every other rom-com out there.
Featured Image Courtesy of Freeform.