Nora Ephron died this week.
Some in the younger generation may not know that name, but to me and other movie fans of a certain age, she is a screenwriter/director who made a huge impact on the type of films that were considered marketable.
Ephron's strength was in writing strong yet quirky characters, most especially females.
"When Harry Met Sally" and "Sleepless in Seattle" are the two screenplays from Ephron which have meant the most to me through the years. They're witty, they're funny and they're poignant films.
Before I watched the movie, Billy Crystal (Harry) and Meg Ryan (Sally) seemed an unlikely couple to me, but the way Ephron wrote the characters, by the end, Billy and Meg as Harry and Sally seemed meant for no one but each other.
Of course, the deli scene in the film - the one that closes with the line "I'll have what she's having" - is the section most people remember. But for me, one of the most memorable moments was fairly early in the film, when Sally was telling Harry about breaking up with her boyfriend, Joe, after realizing she wanted something different out of the relationship, which Joe kept unstructured because he wanted them to be able to "fly off to Rome on a moment's notice."
Meg Ryan's Sally breaks my heart every time with her explanation (which I looked up to be sure I got it right):
"And then one day I was taking Alice's little girl for the afternoon because I'd promised to take her to the circus, and we were in the cab playing 'I Spy' - I spy a mailbox, I spy a lamp-post - and she looked out the window and she saw this man and this woman with these two little kids. And the man had one of the little kids on his shoulders, and she said, 'I spy a family.' And I started to cry. You know, I just started crying. And I went home, and I said, 'The thing is, Joe, we never do fly off to Rome on a moment's notice'."
Beautiful writing, that. Ephron earned an Academy Award nomination for "When Harry Met Sally."
"Sleepless in Seattle" is another film I watch again and again. Tom Hanks is the leading man in that one, playing a recently widowed dad whose young son tries to set him up via a talk radio psychologist's show.
Sam, Hanks' character, ends up on the phone with the radio shrink, who asks him about his late wife. Again, while Ephron was known for writing witty repartee, the words of Sam's response are heart-tuggers:
"Well, how long is your program? Well, it was a million tiny little things that, when you added them all up, they meant we were supposed 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 help her out of a car and I knew. It was like... magic."
Cynics probably hate that but Ephron touches the romantic in me in her writing, then in the next instant makes me roar with laughter. That's a combination I'll take any time.
Some would dismiss Ephron's films as vintage "chick flicks," a term I loathe as it diminishes what those movies are. Ephron even pokes fun of that in a scene in "Sleepless in Seattle" in which Sam and his buddies "cry" about "The Dirty Dozen" after Sam's female friend weeps while talking about the movie "An Affair to Remember."
Every film doesn't appeal to every person. I am not a fan of most action movies, but I understand why they appeal to many. The world of cinema should be expansive enough to allow films of all genres, all sensibilities to be made.
Ephron is someone who broke through in the male-dominated moviemaking business, her films grossing enough to not be ignored by the studios. She will be missed.
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org