On the day that she died, Nora Ephron’s obituary in the USA Today said she was “one of
cinema’s most successful female filmmakers who re-invented the banter-rich romantic comedies of the ’30s and ’40s for the modern era.” With that in mind, I had decided to watch a movie marathon of films Ephron wrote and directed.
I watched Julie & Julia (2009), You’ve Got Mail (1998) and Sleepless in Seattle (1993) in that order. Why in this order? Twyla Tharp suggest reading (or in this case, viewing) “archaeologically.” It’s about digging down and working your way backwards to find the artist’s recurring themes, philosophy and style.
And, boy, does it work!
I could always tell that Nora Ephron had a deep love for old movies, the book world and New York City. You could see it in any movie she wrote and directed. Her stories are set in New York City and many of her characters are writers. If her screenplays aren’t adaptations of older movies, they are heavily influenced by classic films or have plenty of movie references.
After this marathon I realized there were a few more ideas she explored in her stories:
Family can be absent, befuddled or judgmental, but your friends got your back. Friendship is probably the most important relationship in these comedies. Even the romantic couples are first and foremost friends. The idea of friendship can be subtle like how Kathleen in You’ve Got Mail prefers daisies because they are the “friendliest flowers”, or the message is loud and clear as in Sleepless in Seattle when Sam explains to his son that when choosing a wife, “You have to be friends. You have to like each other.”
Ephron also recognizes that friendships can get complicated and downright competitive. In Julie & Julia, she shows that friends can be mentors and part of a team that work toward a common dream, but it’s also human nature to become envious over a friend’s success. Before I watched this marathon, I thought of the friends as sidekicks with the funny one-liners. Now I see that they are the main character’s support system. In all the movies, the friends become involved in chasing the dream.
Favorite quote about friendship:
“What do you think it means if you don’t like your friends?”
“It’s completely normal.”
– Julie & Julia
Ephron was fascinated in how people communicated especially with the use of technology. It was about the search for an intimate connection. The call-in radio show was about talking to “the friend you never had” and the blog is all about being heard and getting reader response. Ephron also made a point of showing how one can form a strong bond with a pen pal whether it’s through the use of letters or e-mail. She noticed that you can talk about anything to an online friend but people are too connected to their phones and electronics when there are face-to-face with someone they know. The use of technology dates the movies but Ephron’s thoughts about making a connection are timeless.
Favorite quote about communication:
“The odd thing about this form of communication is that you’re more likely to talk about nothing than something.”
– You’ve Got Mail
In the three movies I watched, the main characters are dreaming the impossible. It’s more than just writing a book that will change the world, keeping a business afloat in the face of fierce competition, or establishing a relationship with someone you’ve never met. Each movie is about refusing to settle and having the courage to change your life. In You’ve Got Mail, Kathleen has a small existence because she hasn’t been brave. Eventually she dares to imagine that she can have a different life. In Sleepless in Seattle, Annie believes she has to grow up because she can’t have “these adolescent fantasies about how exciting your life is going to be.” She, too, has to find the courage to go after the kind of life that is filled with surprises.
In all of these movies, the dream becomes an obsession. In Julie & Julia, Ephron shows that going after the impossible dream has its share of joy, excitement, disappointment and heartbreak. There is always that moment when the main character wonders if it has all been a waste. In the end, they learn to fight for what they want and take the risk to live their dreams.
Favorite quote about dreams:
“I really don’t want to do is end up always wondering what might have happened and knowing I could have done something.”
– Sleepless in Seattle
After this “archaeological” dig, I would have to say that You’ve Got Mail is quintessentially
Nora Ephron. It’s not her most famous film but it offers an unadulterated view of her philosophy and recurring themes. If you want to know what Nora Ephron was all about, watch You’ve Got Mail.