We all have our favourite actors, actresses, directors, artists etc. etc. and when one of them who means something to you or affected your life in some degree passes away, it’s naturally a very sad thing. I felt this way this morning when I learned the news of director and screenwriter Nora Ephron‘s passing yesterday after losing her lengthy battle with leukaemia.
When I was about twelve years old, my father handed me a VHS (kids, ask your parents) of a film he absolutely adored called When Harry Met Sally.
“You’ll like this,” my Dad smiled. “It’s a funny film with Meg Ryan.”
“Okay, thanks. I’ll give it a go.” I said, looking at it and taking the video from him.
That’s one of the things I love about my Dad; he never used to worry too much about film classifications and if he liked a film, he didn’t mind his daughter seeing it. By the time I was thirteen or so, I’d seen a good few fifteen-certificate films and when I was sixteen, he used to rent me out Trainspotting and Scream when he would go on one of his jollies to the video rental store. Pretty Woman was another he gave to me when I was at an age that the BBFC wouldn’t have approved of.
I was hooked. I have since seen When Harry Met Sally as many times as the most hardcore of Star Wars fans have seen A New Hope. It was a large staple of my video-watching years and just like my Dad, I absolutely loved Meg Ryan. The wit, the razor-sharp supporting cast, glorious shots of New York throughout the decades… it didn’t matter that I was barely even a teenager; this film spoke to me through its fabulous acting and hilarious script.
And that was the beauty of Nora Ephron’s writing. She wrote films that appealed to large cross-sections of movie lovers, my Dad and I being proof. When Sleepless in Seattle came out the video seldom left my VHS player. I remember buying it and storing it proudly next to Sally. When I was seventeen I went on my own (as I often did) to the cinema to see You’ve Got Mail, the next Ryan and Hanks pairing, and I remember thinking this why I love Nora Ephron and her writing. Granted she wrote New York in a bit more of a fluffier way than Woody Allen has, and goes without saying her New York was a complete antithesis of the New Yorks portrayed by Scorsese or Coppola. But didn’t you think that Sally could’ve been a child of Woody Allen’s, when you first saw it; two people who meet over and over and over again across many years, battle through different relationships before finally deciding that the one they were really searching for was the one with each other, all set lovingly against a Manhattan-bridge skyline. How was that hugely different to how Woody Allen has written his relationships?
The thing with Nora Ephron’s films though was they were often the subject of the debate of ‘romantic comedies not depicting realistic relationships’. Perhaps they were not ‘Woody Allen’ enough. But I argue that they were a case of art imitating life. Ephron often wrote her films from being influenced by her own marriages and relationships echoing what Ricky Gervais often says, write what you know. And she did. Why else would they have been so dearly loved if people couldn’t identify? She had the ability to exactly pin-point and even more brilliantly, write them down and make them into a hit movie, the moments and feelings and emotions of what it’s like to be in a modern-day relationship from both sexes’ points of view. You only have to watch her films to see this.
It’s fair to say in the 1990s there was a huge surge of love, more than there had been for some time for New York, with stellar-successful comedies and dramedies such as Friends,
Will & Grace and Sex and the City and the crazy amount of disaster movies and romantic comedies that were released. We ‘hearted’ New York, not being able to get enough of giant cups of coffee, big yellow cabs and liberty lady iconography. Nora Ephron’s successful New York films helped feed our autumn-leaf-covered relationships with the Big Apple with each one that was released, and they certainly put Meg Ryan on the map with her infamous scene in Sally where she agrees with Billy Crystal a bit too much – what an amazing piece of cinema that still gets referenced to this day in top movie moments.
Whether you loved Nora Ephron’s writing not, it could not be denied that she played a huge part in the zeitgeist in our love for New York and romantic comedies where everything turns out alright in the end. We need movies like hers, we need her X to Scorsese’s Y. She has left a wonderful legacy of films that seem to cleverly harbour more under the surface than what first appears on it. In You’ve Got Mail’s case, I’ve always believed the storyline to be light years ahead of its time as the main issue was the ever-battling, bitter war between chain bookstores and independents. Here we are fourteen years later and it’s still enormously relevant.
And that’s without all the drama of relationships.
RIP Nora Ephron