Multi-talented writer/director Nora Ephron died Tuesday at the age of 71. I regretfully wasn’t aware that she was suffering from acute myeloid leukemia and to me, she always looked younger than her age. A tinge of sadness came over me when I heard of her passing. Well, for one, there just aren’t enough female filmmakers in Hollywood as it is and now one of the best has left us. I brought up the issue of the lack of female filmmakers during the Women Filmmakers panel at TCFF last year, and some of the female directors there acknowledged the struggle of being in a business strongly-dominated by men.
But Ephron, who was born in Manhattan to parents who were both screenwriters, was one of the few who thrived in Hollywood. Writing was definitely in her blood as her sisters Delia and Amy are also screenwriters, while her sister Hallie Ephron, is a journalist, book reviewer and novelist who writes crime fiction (per Wiki). She was triple-nominated for Academy Award for Best Original Screenplays: Silkwood, When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle. I have not seen the first one, but the last two, as well as You’ve Got Mail, are amongst my favorite romantic comedies.
One of the actors who owed it to Ephron for her success was Meg Ryan, she starred in three of Ephron’s films and one of those films made her a star. “Nora was an era,” Ryan’s quoted as saying on this website, and you know what, she was. Her sophisticated and witty writing made rom-coms a genre that wasn’t frowned upon by critics nor audiences like it is today. As one of her personal friends Aaron Sorkin in this article astutely put it, “She wrote romantic comedy in a style we don’t see much anymore… Her spirit was really in it because she loved it so much. She loved film so much…”
What I LOVE about Ephron’s rom-coms are how funny and heartwarming they are. The characters and stories are inherently sweet but not banal or hackneyed, and the actors in her movies embody their roles so well that they don’t seem like they’re acting. Unlike some of today’s rom-com stars, the actors aren’t *perfect looking* but they’ve got screen charisma and appeal to go with her charming scripts. Her films are packed with wonderful dialog, lines such as these…
“I’ll have what she’s having,”
“A movie! That’s your problem! You don’t want to be in love. You want to be in love in a movie.”
“I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”
“It was a million tiny little things that when you add them up it meant that we were supposed to be together, and I knew it. I knew it the first time I touched her. It was like coming home. Only to no home that I’d ever known. I was just taking her hand to help her out of the car, and I knew it. It was like magic.”
That last long line from Sleepless is when Tom Hanks’ Sam Baldwin describes his late wife to a late-night radio show host. It always makes me tear up every time I watch it. It’s one of the most genuinely romantic and heartfelt scenes tinged with such poignancy.
She also wrote scenes that are iconic, there’s barely any rom-coms these days that have such indelible scenes such as the diner’s fake-orgasm scene in When Harry Met Sally, or that Sleepless‘ finale up on the Empire State Building. The supporting characters are well-written too, they are memorable even in bit parts: Paul Child in Julie & Julia, Rob Reiner as Hanks’ buddy in Sleepless, Dave Chappelle as Hanks’ right-hand man and Greg Kinnear as Ryan’s technology-loathing boyfriend in You’ve Got Mail, the list goes on. In fact, one of my favorite scenes in Sleepless involves a minor character played by Hanks’ own wife Rita Wilson. The way her character describes a scene from An Affair to Remember is a hoot and the guys’ reaction just perfectly captures the amusing contrast between male/female dynamics. I LOVE this scene!
I also appreciate that Ephron wrote strong female characters, but yet they aren’t unrealistically so. They are quirky but relatable and also have such likability quality about them that I could see them as my own friends. They also have a lot going on in their lives instead of just being the subject of the romance of the story. Julia Child in Julie & Julia has her passion and love for cooking, Sleepless‘ Annie is a successful journalist, and You’ve Got Mail‘s Kathleen Kelly has her bookstore to save. It’s obvious Ephron is a romantic at heart, and she combines that beautifully with her intelligence and sense of humor in her writing. I wish she had made more movies in her lifetime, but one thing for sure, her legacy shall lives on in her work.
Lastly, her movies always have such great music. Sleepless in Seattle is one of my favorite soundtracks that’s packed with classic tunes. I’ll leave you with this one song from Harry Connick Jr. Nora Ephron and great rom-coms go together like a wink and a smile
So what’s YOUR favorite Nora Ephron movie(s)?