February 14, 2020
by Carla Hay
Directed by Peter Paige
Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in Chicago with a predominantly white cast, the romantic comedy “The Thing About Harry” is about two young middle-class men (one who’s openly gay, and the other who’s openly pansexual) who were enemies in high school but start to fall in love with each other, even as they date other people.
Culture Clash: Because one of the men is a commitment-phobic playboy who dates men and women, it causes conflicts over whether or not he’s a suitable partner for the other guy, who wants a long-term, monogamous relationship.
Culture Audience: This movie will appeal mostly to fans of romantic comedies who are open-minded enough to seeing diverse sexualities portrayed on screen.
The romantic comedy “The Thing About Harry,” Freeform’s first Valentine’s Day-themed original movie, puts a queer spin on a story that is very much inspired by the 1989 classic Meg Ryan/Billy Crystal movie “When Harry Met Sally.” In “The Thing About Harry,” two male friends who are obviously sexually attracted to each other try to keep their relationship platonic because one of the pals thinks that falling in love with a good friend is a recipe for disaster. This made-for-TV movie isn’t going to win any Emmys, but it’s a hilarious and sometimes emotionally touching ride that should please fans of romantic comedies.
“The Thing About Harry,” which takes place in Chicago over an approximate five-year period, begins with smart but neurotic Sam Biselli (played by Jake Borelli) an openly gay college student cuddling in bed with his straight female best friend Anatsasia “Stasia” Hooper (played by Britt Barron), a purple-haired sassy free spirit who’s a major commitment-phobe when it comes to dating. While cuddling with Stasia, Sam gets a call from two friends he knew in high school—a straight couple named Chris and Kelly, who ask Sam to attend their engagement party in their mutual hometown of Liberty, Missouri.
Sam says yes, and he plans to road trip to the party in his car. Chris and Kelly then ask Sam to do them a big favor: Give a ride to their friend and former high-school classmate Harry Turpin (played by Niko Tero), who doesn’t have a car. Sam and Harry attend the same college, but they’re not exactly friends. Sam has been openly gay since high school, and popular athlete Harry used to bully him mercilessly because of Sam’s sexuality and because Sam was the type of nerdy kid in school who was a know-it-all teacher’s pet. Sam had the unflattering nickname “Suck-up Sammy” in high school, and Harry was one of the classmates who taunted him with that name.
As far as Sam is concerned, Harry is one of the last people he wants to be stuck with on a road trip, but Sam is such a nice guy that he can’t say no to Chris and Kelly, and he reluctantly agrees to give Sam a ride to the party. Stasia, who has been Sam’s best friend since they met on their first day of college, doesn’t mince words when she tells Sam what she thinks about his decision to spend time with Harry: “You, my friend, are a medical marvel. It’s a wonder you can stand with a spine like that.”
Sam is the type of person who’s a romantic at heart. He believes in monogamy and that a partner should be mindful of things such as a three-month anniversary. It’s one of the reasons why he’s no longer with his ex-boyfriend Malcolm, who cheated on him and definitely was not the type of person who would remember anniversaries. Sam and Malcolm started off as close friends, but as a result of the breakup, Sam has sworn off ever dating someone who’s starts off as a close friend.
When Sam arrives at the arranged meeting place on campus to pick up Harry for the road trip, Harry is almost a half-hour late. Their meeting is somewhat awkward because Sam is very mistrustful of Harry and extremely annoyed at Harry’s tardiness. Harry offers a flippant apology and rambles on that he’s been preoccupied with some of the people he’s been dating, and he’s broken up with his most recent girlfriend. Sam doesn’t seem too surprised, since Harry was a playboy in high school too.
Sam asks Harry if he remembers how much of a hard time he gave Sam in high school. Harry, like a lot of school bullies who’ve grown up, doesn’t remember being as harsh on Sam as Sam remembers it. But Sam reminds him how much Harry’s behavior was mean-spirited and hurtful. Harry is a little taken aback, but then Harry mentions that he has an ex-boyfriend, which leads to Harry telling Sam that he’s pansexual—someone who’s attracted to people of all sexualities and genders.
This time, it’s Sam’s turn to be surprised, since he thought that from the way Harry acted in high school, Harry must be heterosexual. Sam is so shocked that he nearly runs into a truck on the other side of the road. They have a minor car accident when the car swerves into an embankment and has to be towed away for repairs.
While they’re waiting for Sam’s car to fixed, Sam and Harry share a motel room, where Harry confesses to Sam that the reason why he bullied Sam was because he was envious that Sam was open about his sexuality. Harry hadn’t come out with his true sexuality back then, and he said that if he acted nice toward Sam in high school, people would think he was queer “by association.”
After Harry’s confession, the two men open up to each other a little more by talking about their favorite things and their life goals. Sam is surprised to learn that despite Harry’s playboy ways and “macho jock” image, he has a sweet and sensitive side: Harry tells Sam that his favorite movie is “Up” and that his biggest life goal is to become a father. By contrast, Sam says he’s not sure if he wants to bring kids into this world. Later, Harry gives a sincere apology to Sam for being a bully to him in high school.
With Sam’s car back in commission, they continue on the road trip, but Harry ends up ditching him in the middle of the trip to meet up with his most recent ex-girlfriend because they’ve decided to get back together. The engagement party isn’t shown in the movie, but another party is shown that’s a turning point in Sam and Harry’s relationship.
Back in Chicago, not long after the engagement party, Sam and Stasia go to a singles-only Valentine’s Day party. And, of course, Harry happens to be there too. At the party, Harry is wearing an outfit that looks like he just came from a 1992 Kris Kross video: overalls with one of the arm straps unbuttoned. Despite this fashion faux pas, Harry is still the best-looking guy at the party and there’s still a spark of mutual attraction between Sam and Harry.
But talk about bad timing: Harry tells Sam that he’s decided to try being celibate for a while. Sam doesn’t think Harry’s celibacy vow will last, but it makes him feel more comfortable with becoming friends with Harry. Stasia meets Harry for the first time at this party, and although she’s initially suspicious of him, she eventually accepts him when she sees that Sam has forgiven Harry and that they’ve decided to be friends.
The rest of the movie is a “will they or won’t they” guessing game on whether or not Sam and Harry will ever reveal their true feelings for each other while they date other people. “Queer Eye” co-star Karamo Brown has a memorable cameo as a pretentious art dealer named Paul, who dates Sam. In a genuinely funny scene where Sam and Paul join a group of friends at a local bar’s trivia night, Paul shows his true petty nature and Harry surprises everyone with how much trivia he knows. The message is clear: Harry’s not such a dumb jock after all.
Sam and Harry each have platonic male roommates who offer their advice and observations. Sam’s roommate is a middle-aged gay man named Casey (played by former “Queer as Folk” co-star Peter Paige, who directed this movie), who’s like a caring older brother to Sam. Harry’s roommate is a straight guy close to his age named Zack (played by Japhet Balaban), who frequently joins Harry, Sam and Stasia for their friend get-togethers.
Before and after he graduates from college, Sam shows an interest in progressive liberal politics, and he starts his career as a community organizer for a mayoral candidate. Meanwhile, Harry (who’s a marketing major) flounders around after college in low-paying entry-level jobs, such as a sales associate at a clothing store or selling phones at a kiosk.
One of the reasons why Sam is attracted to Harry is that he’s not just another pretty face. Harry is a lot smarter than people assume that he is (although he’s still not as smart as Sam), and he’s a fun and loyal friend. Harry also gets involved with issues that Sam cares deeply about, such as LGBTQ rights. When Sam and Harry go to a party after a Pride parade, something happens at the party that changes the course of their relationship.
“The Thing About Harry,” which was written by director Paige and Joshua Senter, has some unpredictable twists as well as some formulaic aspects to the story. The movie’s biggest appeal is in how realistically the characters are written and portrayed. The whip-smart dialogue of Sam, Stasia and Casey will remind viewers of people they know who can give sassy and sensible romance advice all day to friends, but their own love lives are kind of a mess. And because Harry is a very handsome and commitment-phobic playboy, he has that realistic mix of being charming and frustrating, which are common traits for people who know they have their pick of partners who are competing to fall in love with them.
If Sam and Harry are secretly in love with each other, what’s holding them back? Sam doesn’t want to get his heart broken by Harry, who doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to monogamy and long-term relationships. Harry doesn’t want to fall short of Sam’s high expectations when it comes to romance, and he probably feels that Sam deserves to have a partner who’s on a similar intellectual level.
Despite their differences, Sam and Harry are easy to root for in his love story. The whole point of this movie is to show that when it comes to love, there’s no explaining a lot of attractions. Instead of seeing if a potential love partner fits a list of requirements, many times it’s just best to just go with what feels right if it doesn’t hurt anyone and it makes you happy.
Freeform will premiere “The Thing About Harry” at 8 p.m. ET/PT on February 15, 2020.