“I try to write parts for women that are as complicated and interesting as women actually are.”
It is one year ago today since the delightful Nora Ephron passed away at the age of 71.
She was an acclaimed essayist and novelist (and she wrote books about being a woman and getting old! Which is, for some strange reason in our society, a challenging concept!) as well as an award-winning screenwriter and director.
She carved out a niche in a profession that is reserved for men. And she did it by making movies about interesting, complicated, problematic women. She was often called ‘the queen of romantic comedy’ (which for some reason, makes her sound less important than say, Martin Scorsese who makes mostly non-romantic movies about interesting, complicated, problematic, men)
And gosh, I loved Sleepless in Seattle SO MUCH when I was a teenager. I don’t even know why except, well, it’s a fairy story I suppose? A fairy story where the girl isn’t this perfect princess who just waits for the guy to come to her, she’s a little kooky, and disorganized (although let’s not get too carried away here she is still thin, pretty and blonde) and she goes to HIM.
Or maybe it’s because I totally do this too when I’m driving
And I really liked Michael which I thought was a vastly under-rated movie – John Travolta as a dirty sex- mad angel and a perfectly cast Andie Macdowell and William Hurt as two uptight tabloid reporters – it’s a 90s wet dream that movie. But also, aside from that, it’s just genuinely, quirkily, funny
And how could I forget, how could anyone forget, ‘When Harry Met Sally’? (which I know, she did not direct, Rob Reiner directed it, but she did write it and it’s such a seminal movie I couldn’t not include it) When Harry Met Sally is pure comedy classic gold. And also, it’s good to remind myself sometimes that that character, performing that scene with all that sexual energy, and showing a women owning all that sexual energy, that was still a fairly daring act back in 1989 (one might argue it’s still a fairly daring act now in some circles)
And I know, Ms Ephron’s movies were pretty much straight down the line classic Hollywood films. But at the same time, movies like Julie and Julia are incredibly sophisticated storytelling when you think about it – Julie and Julia is a movie based on a book, based on a blog, based on a person who herself was on TV and also wrote a book, and set in two different periods on two different continents. And she does this a lot, the parallel stories thing, the mental gymnastics asked of the viewer are actually quite complex in order to watch Nora Ephron’s films.
And she writes/creates these lovely strong, complicated, problematic female characters who don’t quite fit into the world around them, and consequently often do slightly crazy things to try and find their voice.
Now, to be honest, her lovely quirky characters did often end up finding their voices in fairly conventional ways – but not everyone has to climb Mt Everest to find their voice right? Sometimes you just have to climb the Empire State Building and take a chance on love, or write a blog about cooking, or follow an angel across the country
But even though they were often conventional her characters were always memorable.
And I do love that her final movie was about two women who aren’t needing to be ‘saved’ or ‘found’ by a man. In fact, Julia Child saves Julie Powell in a sense.
And yes, I have noticed that most of Nora Ephron’s movies are about white middle class people who are usually heterosexual. And yes, I do agree that that is problematic, and a systemic problem in Hollywood in general, in fact.
And I do wonder if she ever just wanted to break out of the box and make something really unconventional and challenging (although maybe she was just more comfortable doing that as a writer? Silkwood is apparently amazing although I haven’t seen it yet, I’ll try to put up a review when I do). But then again, Nora Ephron made big blockbuster movies that were seen all over the world, maybe if she had made things that were less traditional she wouldn’t have been able to share all these interesting, varied, not-just-damsel-in-distress female characters with the world?
And really, sometimes, just the act of going to work every day, as a woman in a role that for some arbitrary reason has been assigned mainly to the male half of the population, that’s a revolution in and of itself.
And oh boy, I really did love Sleepless in Seattle.
Thanks for the movies Ms Ephron, may you Rest in Peace.