I have been thinking of some of the most beloved romantic comedies that Nora Ephron created.
I have been thinking of some of the most beloved romantic comedies that Nora Ephron created (When Harry Met Sally,Sleepless In Seattle,Youve Got Mail) and what made them instantly relatable,instantly likeable films. At the heart of these films,and of all the best films that belong to this genre,is the tight focus,almost like a pair of curvy parenthesis,on Him and Her. Or,if you prefer,on Her and Him. Till they turn into an Us. How can anything be more elemental than this?
Ephron got that. She knew that to get us interested and to keep us hooked,she had to give us characters that would be meaningless without the other. Have you seen how alone,even odd,a solo bracket looks? Like its hanging in the air,just waiting for the other to drop by,and do something that would seal them in togetherness. Tom Hanks may have made that comment about it being a chick flick before he accepted Sleepless In Seattle,but I bet it is probably the most popular film he has on his resume. That,and Youve Got Mail,which may even trump Sleepless… on some peoples lists.
Hanks is a good actor,and has been great when the role gave him space to do something extraordinary. He was wonderful in The Green Mile,which is another of my top fave Hanks films,in which he has conversations with a tiny mouse,while overcoming a painful urinary tract infection and watching over a gentle giant wrongly accused of murder. But if I had a choice between watching him win overs the spirited Meg Ryan in Youve Got Mail or clunk a serial killer on the head in The Green Mile,Id almost always plump for the former. Because that film makes me,and a million other viewers,feel good in the goofy,glowy way that satisfying romcoms do. It makes me believe in angels. And in romance that overcomes all odds,even slow-moving taxis in New York,because a jolly elevator operator would have seen An Affair To Remember,and whisked me to the top (so what if that building doesnt exist anymore),where my one true love waited for me.
A heated conversation last weekend around the staggeringly multi-faceted Ephron (wife,mother,raconteur,hostess,cook,scriptwriter,director,producer) saw a bunch of people I was spending an evening with,divided: she was too cute,said a bearded professor dismissively. Yes,she was,said another professor,minus beard. But both agreed that she knew exactly how to set up two hearts,which would quarrel and squabble and weep and smile,and get them beating as one,giving us a bunch of full-throated laughs betwixt and between.
Because,as anyone whos been down that path can testify,if you cannot make each other laugh,there really isnt much scope for a couple: passion may abate,but a sense of humour is a life-long gift,life-affirming,acrimony-slaying. Ephron gave us the unforgettable fake orgasm scene in When Harry Met Sally: while Ms Ryan is doing all the hard work,Billy Crystal is the guy to watch as he mirrors rising levels of embarrassment and disbelief (wheres that noise coming from,oh no,its her,what is she doing,and OH MY GOD,NOOOOO) in perfect beat with the rising awareness amongst other diners of the woman in loud throes and the man trying to appear oblivious to it all. But the real win comes from the fact that Ephron keeps them together in this cementing of fake-real: we know,at this point,that the twain will always,always meet.
I wasnt a big fan of her last major work,Julie and Julia,where her lifelong friend Meryl Streep put on one of her many accents and nailed her part,but she (Streep) was too perfect to move me. When Ephron died last week of cancer,we mourned her passing because she was one of those rare people who could be bitingly honest and bracingly funny. And we celebrated her big achievements Harry and Sally,Joe and Kathleen,Sam and Annie knowing they may never be bettered. Because,I dont think theres anyone whos seriously capable of doing romcoms any more,at least not the kind Ephron turned out.
It could be that she spoke to,and for,her times. The dross that tries to pass for romcoms these days is more in the realm of by-the-numbers chick flicks (lets get some leggy chicks,and some hot guys,point them towards each other,and sit back to see what happens) because thats easier to assemble than come up with real men and women in a time when we prefer watching angsty teenagers turning into spidermen.
Im quite happy watching beautiful actors in superhero franchises because thats part of a cinematic menu of occasional pleasures. But I will always want what Ephron was having.