The reason I love Nora Ephron is that she wrote disparagingly about egg white omelets. Or maybe it’s because she made funny films about love, or that she was witty and smart. I don’t know. Maybe it’s because she got it in my head that coastal North American cities is where young adult life begins, that I too could meet the man of my dreams if I hopped a plane to a city halfway across the world. Can she (and Woody Allen) be attributed with defining the Hollywood love story? (And blamed for too many starry-eyed unions chartered geographically around clusters of most populous American cities?) Perhaps.
But maybe it’s this – a strong female voice is compelling. Funny women who write or make films about men, or themselves, or something else entirely – girls who don’t give a fudgecake or a firetruck what anyone else thinks because they’re out there making their own stories, those are the women I like and identify with. For the same reason I love Amy Poehler, I love Nora Ephron – there is something special about women who make the world bend to their will, who empower women without disenfranchising men.
“Most directors…need to be convinced that the screenplay they’re going to direct has something to do with them… [T]his is a tricky thing if you write screenplays where women have parts that are equal to or greater than the male part….So I thought, I’m just going to become a director….that’ll make it easier.” Ephron said in Daniel Snyder’s screenwriting documentary Dreams on Spec.
Seattle filmmaker Lynn Shelton (who wrote and directed Outside In) echoes that sentiment, “Nobody ever said to me, ‘you can’t do this, you’re just a little girl.’ Nobody ever gave me that kind of guff.” Shelton started her career as an editor, blossomed into a microbudget filmmaker, and now directs TV shows (her episodic credits include Mad Men, Glow, and Fresh off the Boat). Her contemporary Megan Griffiths (Lucky Them) “was a writer before she was anything else”, and between the two of them they represent Seattle as not the Emerald City’s most successful female filmmakers, but among Seattle’s best filmmakers, period.
“Nobody really has an easy time getting a movie made,” Ephron had said once to the New Yorker regarding the women’s movement. Female exceptionalism, “endless women-in-film panels”, just wasn’t a topic of interest for her. “It’s, like, just do it! Just do it.”
That resonates with me as an entertainment writer, even as I rattle off names of prominent figures strung together around the union of cameras and uteruses. Nobody wants to be noticed just because they tick a diversity box (though I sure can appreciate a paycheck). When it comes to making lists of best films, writers, directors, what a politically correct and toothless categorization, if we had different points and different scoring systems for both sides of the room, the quarterbacks and cheerleaders (e.g. Best Female Director, Best Male Editor).
The story speaks for itself. Stories containing female voices and perspectives can be unexpected, surprising and singular, or at least worth talking about (and certainly worth watching). And if, for some reason, you pour heart into a film and it doesn’t get made? Take Nora Ephron’s advice – “Write something else.”
Nora Ephron: the not-so New Urban Romantic
She loved Seattle’s own culinary royalty Tom Douglas’ mom’s crab dip. She once said that, “[t]here is almost nothing I ever do that won’t stop dead if someone needs a recipe for something”. Her idea of the perfect man (at least in Sleepless in Seattle) was someone who enjoyed steamer clams, was a sensitive architect and had a boathouse. I can’t disagree.
Nora Ephron bought a lot of cookbooks, so do I. Nora Ephron shot a scene in Pike Place for an Oscar-nominated film with Tom Hanks being an A+ Dad, I have been to Pike Place with two small children and fallen in love with seafood one monkfish at a time. I have also gotten married in Central Park and spent at least one drunk night in Kat’s Deli. But I have never “shot a fish like [Martin] Scorsese”, or cooked my way through a Julia Child book. And Tom Hanks has never said this of me:
“She will ask you a question: ‘Well, what do you think of so-and-so’. And I always have a little voice inside me saying, ‘If she doesn’t agree with me, I’m going to be a little crushed.’ Because she might say, ‘You are insane.’ Or she might say, ‘Exactly.’”
But I totally wish someone like him would.
Her work was romantic first and funny second, because if love isn’t absurd I don’t know what is.
She called it in You’ve Got Mail, how prescient it was now that all my friends are marrying matches on Tinder. I met my first boyfriend because he gave me Gmail back when it was invite-only—technology has changed the way we like and love and relate with each other. I have tried and failed at long-distance relationships, so I get why Tom Hanks rules out women who aren’t within driving distance in Sleepless in Seattle.
Here are three films you can watch on your favorite fancy technology, and maybe find something to talk to an attractive stranger about on your preferred mode of transportation that you can enjoy from the comfort of your device or living room.
Sleepless in Seattle (1993) – A Silly Show About A Silly Thing
I like a bold move—like holding out till the very end, like a wordless interaction with the urgency of something that matters. What I don’t like is romantic backpedalling.
Meg Ryan lives in Baltimore with a sweet, blue-eyed fiance (Bill Pullman) but can’t help falling in love with a voice on the radio. Tom Hanks, Mr. Sleepless in Seattle, is cornered by his nine-year-old son to talk about his (lack of) romantic entanglements since his wife died. He thinks about this often, as an artless architect desperate to talk or get laid (hopefully both, if the stars align) in his obscene waterfront property.
Why is she stalking him online? Why does he not see that he should hold out for someone better? Why does it rain nine months out of the year here? How is it that Meg Ryan and the nine-year-old conspire to meet in NYC on Valentine’s Day while she is on a getaway with her fiance because of a movie apparently everyone loves? Has anyone actually tried to find anyone on the Empire State Building? But what does logistical improbability have on love, and specific engineering to make it happen?
Love is silly; people who believe in love are sillier. They aren’t wrong, but they are silly. What wouldn’t you risk to know if someone you liked was made for you? What dignity do you have pretending it isn’t so? What a ridiculous gamble, but then again, if you can find someone out there, who is sexy and clever and kind, what else do you want in life?
Everything is Copy – My Mom is Literally the Best
An informative biopic about a strong woman, a writer and a filmmaker. Nora Ephron wrote about food, saw how beautiful Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan were together, and embraced the long distance relationship (and its relationship with technology) in a time when men and women didn’t know how to talk about what they wanted. She died too early, had a family and career equally, and is remembered by her journalist son, lovingly, as the world’s best mom.
What disappoints about the documentary is this: Without a mystery, without a person to love and hate simultaneously, without any drama, there is nothing unexpected about this film besides its excellent essays, read by Hollywood’s best. That, in itself, is a marvel—writing and delivery, derision and humor, Nora Ephron changed the way we view cities and love in extrapolations far beyond Friends or How I Met Your Mother. What a cynical but hopeless romantic, but what else
do we look for in love?
(Streaming: HBO Now)
Julie & Julia – Cooking and Loving Across Time and Space
Who knew Julia Child was a pre-CIA operative in China? Who knew she couldn’t be just a housewife, whiling away her time in Paris with nothing to do but become America’s first celebrity chef?
Meryl Streep is Julia Child, Amy Adams is her acolyte through time and space blogging her way through Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Each have loving, supportive men (Stanley Tucci, Chris Messina) who want their partners to realize their dreams. One mate, an esteemed diplomat, the other – um, some guy. What a delight, a discovery, that women can work hard and be clever and want things. Beyond what society dictates, they can be strong, and alone, and relentless (and funny).
This movie only won one major award (a Golden Globe for Meryl Streep’s performance) and was only nominated for a single Oscar (also for Meryl Streep, which she didn’t win), so to say the cast was impeccable seems trite at best. It moved deftly between the past and present, scene from scene there was such continuity in theme, in tone, in movement, in concert to pull off what is truly a delight: a story about love, wit, and all the other things that make life worth living.