Thursday, June 28, 2012

Nora Ephron's Films Were Inspirational Love Letters

She was a reporter, essayist, author, blogger, director, producer and Oscar nominated screenwriter. Plus she was sharply funny.

But to me, Nora Ephron -- who died this week from complications related to leukemia -- meant four things: Humor, optimism, insight and magic. To make my case, I present you with my four favorite Ephron films, all of which I have watched countless times and will no doubt watch many times more because they are poignant, entertaining, smart and hopeful.


When Harry Met Sally

This classic New York-based film featured Sally Albright (Meg Ryan) as a chipper, glass-half-full reporter. Her foil was Harry Burns (Billy Crystal), a delightful curmudgeon (who reminds me of several people I know in real life) who made no bones about his gloomy outlook and propensity for reading the last page of a book so that if he dies before he gets to the conclusion, he'll already knows the ending. I adored how this unlikely pair got on the telephone with one another, late at night while in their separate homes and watched TV together, specifically Casablanca. (Entertainment Weekly ran a great piece on what When Harry Met Sally was "really" about.)

Favorite scene: The conversations Sally and Harry had during their car ride from Chicago to New York City were brilliant.


Sleepless in Seattle

This showcased Tom Hanks at his romantic comedy best as the forlorn, down-to-earth, painfully vulnerable widower Sam Baldwin who had an 8-year-old son Jonah who missed his mother desperately. Ryan played Annie Reed, a true romantic in the form of a newspaper reporter (another one!) who was willing to take big risks for something crazy that she knew, in her gut, felt right . . . like flying from Baltimore to Seattle just to say, "Hello" to a man she'd heard on the radio.

Favorite scene: After Jonah called a national radio talk show therapist saying that his "Christmas wish" was for his dad to find a "new wife," a reluctant Sam wound up waxing poetic about the ethereal beauty in how his wife made everything beautiful, even peeling apples. (A video of the beginning of the conversation can be found here.)


You've Got Mail

Ryan played Kathleen Kelly who ran a cherished little children's bookstore with tremendous heart and a passion for literature, something she learned from her dear, departed mother who started the store and raised Kathleen amidst the bookshelves. Hanks played Joe Fox, the smarmy businessman whose family was in the chain bookstore business, who also happened to have a private, tender underbelly.

Favorite scene: The moment that always tugs at my heart featured Kathleen decorating the Christmas tree in her store window, achingly missing her mother as she watched former customers of hers walk by the window toting Fox Books bags. The reference to Joni Mitchell's "River" kills me because I can hear the melancholy tune playing in my head when Kathleen mentions it. I couldn't download the scene here, but you can watch it on YouTube.


Julie and Julia

Ephron's final film inspired me on several levels. We watched as Meryl Streep's version of Julia Child launched a new career while in her late 30s in spite of the doubters who attempted to diminish and discourage her. We saw Amy Adams play a frustrated "cubicle dweller" embark on a quest to reclaim her raise d'etre by following Julia's culinary advice, along with all the recipes in Julia's most famous cookbook. The icing on the cake in this film was the moving depiction of the enduring love between Julia and her husband Paul (played by Stanley Tucci), as he cheered her on in the face of repeated defeats.


Favorite scene: After many discouraging rejections (I can totally relate), Julia finally received a letter from a publisher who willing to publish her book. Sweet success after her years of hard work. Although video of that particular scene wasn't available online, the Valentine's Day dinner hosted by Julia and Paul (see above) was a sweet example of the couple's affection.

What's your favorite Ephron film (or book or essay)?

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