Yesterday CNN announced that beloved screenwriter and director Nora Ephron passed away at age 71 after losing her fight with leukemia. Since it’s one of my favorite movies, I decided to watch “When Harry Met Sally” last night in her honor.
Actually, she has been the creative force behind several of my favorite films, so as I was watching I tried to figure out what it is exactly about Ephron that drew in so many fans over the decades.
Obviously you can’t talk about Nora Ephron without touching on the romantic comedy (or “chick flick”) – she wrote the screenplay not only for “When Harry Met Sally,” but also “Sleepless in Seattle,” and “You’ve Got Mail” – quite possibly the 3 most quintessential American romantic comedies of the past 25 years. But what made her so successful? I think it was Ephron’s unique ability to tap into the mindset of the average American in several different ways at once.
In the Oscar nominated film “Silkwood” (starring Meryl Streep, Cher, and Kurt Russell) she speaks to the importance of having a voice, and standing up for the truth, no matter what the consequences.
“Julie & Julia” written and directed by Ephron, teaches us all to do something for ourselves every once in a while – and that if you’re passionate enough about it, following your dreams can lead you to some pretty amazing places, and change your life in ways that you never could have imagined.
Ephron also focuses on the importance of best friendship. “When Harry Met Sally” is obviously at the forefront, flirting with the line between friendships and relationships. But with the introduction of the characters Jess and Marie (friends to Harry and Sally, played by Bruno Kirby and Carrie Fischer) – and the way the film is edited, it also creates a fun and interesting juxtaposition between the way men and women think.
Annie, Meg Ryan’s character in “Sleepless” has some hilarious scenes with her best friend Becky (played by Rosie O’Donnell) as they obsess over love and the film “An Affair to Remember” – while widowed Sam (Tom Hanks) finds support from his friends as they share a now-famous moment in an improvised scene about “The Dirty Dozen“.
Perhaps most importantly however, Nora Ephron’s films taught us how to fall in love. Amid a flurry of unrealistic love stories, Ephron created works based on endearing, quirky, yet flawed characters that everyone can relate to. The leading men (most notably Billy Crystal and Tom Hanks) feel like men who could actually exist in real life.
Yes, she indulges the hopeless romantic in us all, with lines like this one, from “Sleepless,”
“Well, it was a million tiny little things that, when you added them all up, they meant we were suppose to be together… and I knew it. I knew it the very first time I touched her. It was like coming home…only to no home I’d ever known…I was just taking her hand to to help her out of a car, and I knew. It was like…magic.”
but she also shows us that love can be right under our nose, in the form of someone who’s habits were once so irritating to us that we hated them (“When Harry Met Sally” and “You’ve Got Mail”).
“Harry: I love that you get cold when it’s 71 degrees out. I love that it takes you an hour and a half to order a sandwich. I love that you get a little crinkle above your nose when you’re looking at me like I’m nuts. I love that after I spend the day with you, I can still smell your perfume on my clothes. And I love that you are the last person I want to talk to before I go to sleep at night. And it’s not because I’m lonely, and it’s not because it’s New Year’s Eve. 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.
Sally: You see? That is just like you, Harry. You say things like that, and you make it impossible for me to hate you, and I hate you, Harry. I really hate you. I hate you. “
Indeed, Ephron not only created characters and movies that have had a lasting impact on the landscape of film, they have also found their way into the fabric of our lives. So thank you, Nora Ephron, and rest in peace, knowing you will continue to live on in our hearts and minds for years to come through the gifts you gave the film community.
“And I feel bad for the people who don’t at some point understand that there’s something funny in even the worst things that can happen to you.” – Nora Ephron