Celebrated novelist Nora Ephron passed away early on 27 June 2012 at the age of 71 after succumbing to complications of the blood disorder myelodysplasia, a blood disorder she was diagnosed with six years ago.
A versatile artist, she was a playwright, screenwriter, journalist and blogger amongst many other things.
Her film work, much like her writing, is known for her perceptive observations, which she managed to get through to people the best way she knew how- a self-deprecating and deadpan sense of humour. It was that mix that would lead her to be nominated for three Academy Awards for ‘Silkwood’, ‘You've Got Mail’ and ‘When Harry Met Sally’. Here, we revisit some of the best movies she was involved with and explore how she earned the title of “Rom-Com Queen”.
‘Heartburn’ (Screenwriter, Novelist) (1986)
Directed by legendary director Mike Nichols (‘The Graduate’) and starring Oscar winners actors Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson, ‘Heartburn’ isn't one of Ephron's best, but is here on this list because it's a deeply personal movie, simply because it's loosely based on her own marriage and separation from fellow journalist Carl Bernstein who is best known for being one of the two men who uncovered the Watergate scandal.
The movie chronicles the marriage of food writer Rachel Samstat (Streep) and political columnist Mark Forman (Nicholson). The two of them meet and get caught up in a whirlwind courtship and eventually marry. ‘Heartburn’ is the first of many of Ephron's works to explore the differences between men and women – their wants and needs are expressed here through Rachel's disappointment in her sacrifice of career for her marriage, only to realize the adultery taking place behind her back.
‘When Harry Met Sally’ (Writer, Associate Producer) (1989)
A classic, ‘When Harry Met Sally’ is a true romantic comedy, one that is very romantic and actually very funny. Directed by Rob Reiner (‘This Is Spinal Tap’, ‘The Princess Bride’) and starring Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal, this movie sees Ephron further exploring the subject of men and women together, this time in the form of the question, “Can a man and a woman really be just nothing more than friends?”
A simple story about the titular couple told over a period of about 10 years, the film explores sexual tension and friendship between two people with varying ideas about love and relationships. In particular, Harry starts off the movie believing that a man and a woman can never be just friends, because he believes that sex gets in the way of that. That same belief will come to be challenged by Sally and even himself throughout the movie. The chemistry between the two leads is just electric. Plus, there are two iconic scenes in this one movie alone; the deli scene where Meg Ryan famously fakes an orgasm and the ending monologue where Billy Crystal pours his heart out.
‘Sleepless In Seattle’ (Director, Writer) (1993)
Ms. Ephron's second effort at directing after 1992's ‘This Is My Life’ reunited Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan from the cult comedy ‘Joe Versus the Volcano’. The plot is a little on the dreamy side and revolves around Sam Baldwin (Hanks), a widowed Chicago architect. He is somehow persuaded by his young son, Jonah, to go on air on the radio to talk about how much he misses Maggie, whom he lost to cancer.
Women all over the country are touched and start writing to Sam. Annie Reed (Ryan), is a Baltimore Sun reporter who is engaged to Walter (Bill Pullman) but feels there is something missing in their relationship. She writes a letter to Sam on impulse, suggesting they meet on top of the Empire State Building on Valentine's Day. She doesn't mail it, but her editor Becky does, sending Annie to Seattle on assignment to do a story on the radio show.
The story then revolves around them not meeting before they eventually and quite predictably meet. Much of the movie is inspired by ‘An Affair to Remember’, a movie starring Cary Grant. References to it are everywhere, from the use of its theme song and clips and it being a security guard's wife's favourite movie to Tom Hanks' character commenting on it.
The movie largely rests on the shoulders of the two very likable leads, who share a wonderful chemistry together. The two of them would reunite again in...
‘You've Got Mail’ (Director, Writer, Producer) (1998)
Just like ‘Sleepless In Seattle’, ‘You've Got Mail’ is also inspired by another film. In this case, it's the 1940 film by Ernst Lubitsch, ‘The Shop Around the Corner’.
Updated to the modern age with email, the film essentially remains the same conceptually; two people corresponding and falling in love through e-mail without realizing that they can't stand each other in real life. Hanks plays Joe Fox, owner of Fox Books, a mega-chain book store while Meg Ryan is his indie counterpart, the owner of the book shop her mom used to run, “The Shop Around The Corner.” The movie is also Ephron's love letter to the Upper West Side of New York, showcasing the tightly knit community the area is renowned for.
An enjoyable movie that (once again) works so well because of the leads and also of the simple but charming concept, the film also features Nora Ephron boldly embracing the use of technology as a subject in a rom-com, something she would do again in...
‘Julie & Julia’ (Director, Writer, Producer) (2009)
Starring Meryl Streep as celebrity TV chef Julia Child, this culinary dramedy juxtaposes the life of Child during the early stages of her culinary career during the 1950s with the life of ordinary New Yorker Julie Powell (Amy Adams) in 2002.
Struggling writer Julie has a pretty crappy job answering phone calls, so she decides to do something she thoroughly enjoys and challenges herself to cook every recipe in the Child’s book ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking’ within a year.
That's 524 recipes in 365 days; so she starts documenting her progress on her blog, “The Julie/Julia Project”, which would eventually get published in the form of two books.