You’ve Got Mail, Sleepless in Seattle, and When Harry Met Sally.
Three of my FAVORITE movies! All contain three similarities— a) Meg Ryan as the leading lady b) an absolute DREAM of a leading man (Tom Hanks, Tom Hanks, and Billy Crystal) and c) the late and great Nora Ephron as a writer. Nora was known for her romantic comedies with particularly strong female characters. But what makes these movies so amazing is the fact that they show accurate portrayals of both men and women’s takes on love. The conversations seem genuine, not stagy or unrealistic in any sense. How easy would it be for a woman to use the opportunity writing a romantic comedy to take a more feminist outlook? But this never happens—which is what differentiates her films from many others.
I realized how much I appreciate the stories Nora Ephron gave to the entertainment industry after watching When Harry Met Sally for the first time last night. While my other favorites, You’ve Got Mail and Sleepless in Seattle, were based on other works, this film is completely original and is one of the most authentic pieces of film that I have seen. In fact, at one point I was conscious about my mind following along with the story. Everyone, when taking in information, repeats it to themselves for comprehension while listening, watching, experiencing. 99% of the time, this happens subconsciously, but we are aware at certain points in our lives of this repeating voice. That happened last night, when watching this movie. I was thinking, “Okay…Billy and Meg are starting to trust each other and build a friendship, but it’s so obvious that Billy has feelings for Meg…wait…why am I not calling them by their character names?” I believe it’s because Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal didn’t really HAVE to act! The dialogue is so casual and everyday, it’s easy to believe that these characters are people living just down the street from you. In addition, you hear the stories about the spontaneous improvisations that happened on set—the most well known being the “I’ll have what she’s having” scene. I believe that what I was seeing was these people, and before I knew about Harry and Sally, I knew about Billy and Meg. These people became real to me. And no comedy I have seen has ever done that before, which is what really drew me in.
SPOILER ALERT- SKIP THIS PARAGRAPH IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN WHEN HARRY MET SALLY AND MOVE ON TO THE NEXT— As the characters grow more three dimensional over the course of the story, which spans twelve years, I found myself getting angry. I reacted the same way to Memoirs of a Geisha— I was thinking “If this doesn’t end happily, I will throw this DVD into the street.” That’s how attached I became to these people, who the viewer can clearly see are perfect opposites and completely belong together, but because of their own fears and inhibitions cannot fathom a relationship with each other. All of the evidence suggested that they were never going to form a relationship despite being intensely in love with each other, and I literally cheered when they DID get together!
You’ve Got Mail is equally strong, and although not as valued as When Harry Met Sally or Sleepless in Seattle. In fact, I personally venture to call Sleepless in Seattle the weakest of the three in my opinion because the romantic couple spend 98% of the film in separate states, not even aware of each other’s existence. Also, that little kid gets on my nerves. But I digress, because perhaps that’s also what makes Ephron films different from the rest—she is a master of suspense. This can particularly be seen in “You’ve Got Mail,” which is based on the Jimmy Stewart film “The Shop Around the Corner,” which is based on the musical “She Loves Me,” which is based on the play “Parfumerie,” which is probably descended from the Druids or god knows what else. In You’ve Got Mail, the protagonists are sworn enemies in person, but are best friends through anonymous correspondence by email. The audience is completely aware of this, and you spend two hours wondering to yourself “Are they ever going to get together?” Then the bargaining begins. “They HAVE to! This is a romantic comedy! This has to end happily….but wait…no I don’t think it will…oh NO!” This is a common theme in all three films, which both infatuates me and frustrates the HELL out of me!
Ultimately, though, the ending does come, and whether it be the ending you hoped for or the ending you totally saw coming, it still feels unexpected. Something is spontaneous about it. Something refreshing and genuine. That’s the magic of a Nora Ephron rom-com. A valued playwright, screenwriter, director and producer, her artistic genius will be missed in the years to come, for I don’t see any romantic comedies today that match the caliber of hers for the reason that the suspense and reality is not there. It doesn’t match up. While some may come close, it will truly take a great artist to replicate or surpass her work.
So yes. I want my life to be a Nora Ephron film. I want to spend an 18 hour car ride with a man I find repulsive initially, then lose contact with for ten years. Or did I? I want him to be a pen pal of mine that is perfect for me. I want to arrange a meeting between us on top of the Empire State building on Valentine’s Day, where we meet again, realize that it was meant to be, and the elevator doors close behind us as the credits roll, leaving our fate to be interpreted by others. Can my life please have the excitement and fervor of an Ephron film, please?