In memory of writer-director Nora Ephron, the master of intelligent romantic comedies who died on June 26, Intermission presents a list of Ephron’s greatest achievements in entertainment.
“When Harry Met Sally”
“When Harry Met Sally” is indubitably Ephron’s screenwriting masterpiece. It was made over 20 years ago but still feels contemporary. Harry (Billy Crystal) and Sally (Meg Ryan) hate each other when they first meet after college, but become friends and ultimately fall in love after a decade. From Sally’s fake orgasm in a restaurant and hilariously detailed way of ordering food to Harry’s odd pronunciation of “pecan pie,” the film is full of memorable character details. It’s this richness and genuinely wise observations about relationships–one of the characters, for instance, points out the usefulness of a romantic partner: “You have someone to go places with!”–that keeps me coming back to it year after year. “When Harry Met Sally” is a touching and witty story about two smart people and a film that certainly transcends its genre.
“You’ve Got Mail”
“You’ve Got Mail,” which Ephron wrote and directed, is probably her most under-appreciated film, easily but incorrectly dismissed as a remake of her earlier work, “Sleepless in Seattle.” Both tell stories of couples that fall in love based on letters from strangers and both star Ryan and Tom Hanks, but the similarities stop there. “You’ve Got Mail” is more than just pure unapologetic sappiness; it’s genuinely funny, with unparalleled break-up scenes and non-stop witty repartee. Ryan and Hanks are at war in the workplace; she owns the small children’s bookshop in the Upper East Side; he, the big chain bookstore opening across the street, threatening to put her out of business. Meanwhile, they are anonymous AOL email buddies, falling madly in love with each other. Yes, you can guess where this one’s going, but it has some magnificent lines and a whole slew of unforgettable characters: from Ryan’s boyfriend, who is in love with his typewriter to the point of writing a panegyric extolling it; to Hanks’ aunt, who is a quarter of his age; to the cast of characters that work in Ryan’s shop.
“Julie and Julia”
“Julie and Julia” was also written and directed by Ephron and explores food and feminism in the 21st century, and it does wonders to dissociate cooking from patriarchal oppression. It’s a film about two strong women–New Yorker Julie (Amy Adams) and Julia Child (played perfectly by Meryl Streep)–who have a culinary passion that gives them power: Their forays in the kitchen aren’t domestic requirements but a source of joy, pride and, often, stress. Refreshingly, they also have supportive husbands–not pushovers–to stand by them, played by Stanley Tucci and Chris Messina, and the food they cook undoubtedly leave you craving French desserts by the end of the film.
Ephron’s published writings
These may get less publicity than her films, but they assuredly place Ephron as the wisecracking Dorothy Parker of her time (minus the drama). Ephron started out in the newspaper business and eventually developed a knack for writing features and confessional essays, where she discussed everything from divorce to food to the strange parting in her hair that she wishes people would point out to her when it goes awry. Her writing is personal, funny, insightful and wonderfully addictive. Her memoir “I Remember Nothing,” published in 2010 with excerpts printed in The New Yorker, was certainly one of the books of the year.