I am woefully late on my tribute of Nora Ephron, one of my favorite modern authors. While she wasn’t really a novelist her scripts and essays had a way of commenting on life in a funny and charming way. Some people might claim her to be a soft writer, overly nostalgic and romantic but to me this is part of her charm. She gave us something familiar, something to smile at and taught us a lesson along the way. She passed away from leukemia on June 26th. My condolences go out to her family and friends. I loved her work.
For example, in You’ve Got Mail she taught us the different ways human beings absorb conflict:
One character, Joe Fox says,
“Have you ever become the worst version of yourself. That a pandora’s box of all the hateful things, your spite, your arrogance, your condescension has sprung open? Someone upsets you and instead of smiling and walking away… you zing them.”
While Kathleen Kelly says,
“No, I know what you mean, and I’m completely jealous. What happens to me when I’m provoked is that I get tongue-tied and my mind goes blank. Then, then I spend all night tossing and turning trying to figure out what I should have said. What should I have said, for example, to a bottom dweller who recently belittled my existence?”
I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve related to both sentiments. I’ve even said the lines over in my head while making an expression choice.
Another favorite from You’ve Got Mail that I have to share:
“Sometimes I wonder about my life. I lead a small life – well, valuable, but small – and sometimes I wonder, do I do it because I like it, or because I haven’t been brave? So much of what I see reminds me of something I read in a book, when shouldn’t it be the other way around? I don’t really want an answer. I just want to send this cosmic question out into the void. So good night, dear void.”
And one more I’ve turned to again and again:
“People are always saying that change is a good thing. But all they’re really saying is that something you didn’t want to happen at all… has happened.”
I like when Roger Ebert said “Ephron’s dialogue represents the way people would like to be able to talk. It’s witty and epigrammatic, and there are lots of lines to quote when you’re telling friends about the movie”. That is so true. I wish I could pontificate charmingly about books, romance, New York City etc. Perhaps Ephron sets the standard too high but isn’t that the job of writers to elevate the language of the masses?
Not all of Ephron’s dialogue was witty. In fact, her description of grief in Sleepless in Seattle is one of the most touching passages I have ever read:
“Well, I’m gonna get out of bed every morning… breathe in and out all day long. Then, after a while I won’t have to remind myself to get out of bed every morning and breathe in and out… and, then after a while, I won’t have to think about how I had it great and perfect for a while”
He then goes on to describe an ideal love:
“Well, it was a million tiny little things that, when you added them all up, they meant we were supposed to be together… and I knew it. I knew it the very first time I touched her. It was like coming home… only to no home I’d ever known… I was just taking her hand to help her out of a car and I knew. It was like… magic. ”
Who doesn’t yearn for such a relationship? Perhaps it is unrealistic but that is the type of fantasy I enjoy. More than swords or mystical lands, a fantastical view of life and romance.
When Harry Met Sally is another favorite and most of the memorable stretches of dialogue are too long to repeat here but they are just divine. Watch it again and you’ll remember how great the conversation is. Some feel such pithy dialogue is inauthentic but I totally bought the characters. Sure maybe nobody really talks like that but I don’t go to the movies for realism (or total fantasy for that matter). I go to the movies for heightened or at least exaggerated realism.
WHMS is probably Ephron’s funniest script, helped greatly I’m sure by a great deal of ad-libbing by Billy Crystal. Of course, there is the famous scene in the diner with the classic line ‘I’ll have what she’s having’ and the long introductory debate over the plausibility of male/female friendship, but my favorite line probably goes unnoticed by many but it makes me laugh every time I hear it:
Sally: No, no, no, I drove him away. AND, I’m gonna be forty.
Harry: In eight years.
Sally: But it’s there. It’s just sitting there, like some big dead end. And it’s not the same for men. Charlie Chaplin had kids when he was 73.
It is just sitting there like a big dead end but at least with this line Ephron made me laugh about it!
I could spend this whole post listing quote after quote. There are so many great movies. I love what she did with Julie and Julia turning the insufferable book into a charming story by adding the life of Julia Child. In that movie she adapts from the wonderful memoir My Life in France by Julia Child, the most touching depiction of marriage I have seen in a movie:
Paul Child: You are the butter to my bread, you are the breath to my life.
How beautiful is that? It’s perfect.
Paul Child is the ideal marriage partner because he sacrificed his whole life to make Julia’s dreams come true. An artist himself, he was satisfied to work as a bureaucrat for years so that she could publish her book. I love this speech in the movie:
“I’m not kidding you; I’m not. Someone is going to publish your book. Someone is going to read your book, and realize what you’ve done. Because YOUR BOOK is amazing. YOUR BOOK is a work of genius. YOUR BOOK is going to change the world. ”
I wish I had someone in my life who believed in me that way. What a beautiful portrayal captured by Ephron of a beautiful marriage.
In addition to screenplays Nora Eprhon is a fabulous essayist. My favorite is her book I Feel Bad About My Neck. I bought it years ago at an airport bookstore and loved it. Nearly every essay rings true and is funny without being over-the-top.
“Maintenance is what you have to do just so you can walk out the door knowing that if you go to the market and bump into a guy who once rejected you, you won’t have to hide behind a stack of canned food…I dont mean to be too literal about this but the point is that I still think about them every time I’m tempted to leave the house without eyeliner”
But my favorite essay by far is on parenting. I don’t have any kids but I still think it is brilliant:
“Back in the day when there were merely parents as opposed to people who were engaged in parenting, being a parents was fairly straightforward. You didn’t need a book…You understood that your child had a personality. His very own personality. He was born with it. For a certain period this child would live with you and your personality and you would do your best to survive each other.”
She goes on:
…One day there was this thing called parenting. Parenting was serious. Parenting was fierce. Parenting was solemn. Parenting was a participle, like going and doing and crusading and worrying; it was active, it was energetic. It was unrelenting. Parenting meant playing Mozart cds while you were pregnant, doing without the epidural…Parenting began with the assumption that your baby was a lump of clay that could be molded into a perfect person who would be admitted into the college of your choice…
and concludes with this profound thought
“Meanwhile every so often, your children come to visit. They are, amazingly, completely charming people. You can’t believe you’re lucky enough to know them. They make you laugh. They make you proud. You love them madly. They survived you. You survived them. It crosses your mind that on some level you spent hours and days and months and years without laying a glove on them, but don’t dwell. There’ s no point. It’s over. Except for the worrying. The worrying is forever”
I’m not even a parent but I found this to be the most touching description of parental emotion I’ve ever read. I think it is perfect.
Well, that’s a lot of writing but what better way is there to pay tribute to a favorite author. I’m sincerely going to miss her voice and the way she made me smile. Thanks Nora!