“Not All Her Films Are Fiction”: A Review of the Life and Work of Nora Ephron | Nora Ephron

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YesWe can’t chart Nora Ephron’s ensemble with just the hits that put her at the top of the turn-of-the-century rom-com boom, but you can’t do it without them, either. The polymath writer’s best-known traits – her sharp wit, her peculiar taste taken by some for difficulty, her deep and enduring love of food – come through in screenwriting gigs like When Harry Met Sally… as well as directing projects like Insomnia in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail. Lovelorn and talkative, it’s Nora’s fans who think they know enough to assume the basis of the first name, a characterization that only covers one side of a woman of many splendours. Kristin Marguerite Doidge, the author of the new Nora Ephron: A Biography, hopes to broaden the image of a singular talent for faithful visionaries and the uninitiated.

“She’s been writing for five or six decades, and so everyone comes to her from a different angle,” Doidge told the Guardian from her home in Los Angeles. “Some people may have seen Heartburn before anything else, or maybe you remember seeing This Is My Life with your grandmother. neck. The general public tends to think of her as the queen of romantic comedy, the woman who made You’ve Got Mail. That’s just a part of her and what she stands for. of the younger generation doesn’t even know about Nora and her movies. I teach at a university, and when I say her name, I get a lot of blank stares. It’s crazy!”

Although Doidge can hardly blame them; not so long ago, she considered herself an Ephron neophyte. “I came to see his films later,” she says. “I feel bad to say it, but I wasn’t a big fan. I never associated Nora with Silkwood before working on this book. Growing up in the 80s and 90s, I saw Sleepless in Seattle. I heard about When Harry Met Sally…but I wasn’t allowed to watch it! Too outrageous, you never knew why at the time. And isn’t it telling, how much a woman experiencing pleasure was considered too much for a child. As a child, you don’t even really understand the joke!

Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally… Photo: Columbia Pictures/Allstar

Doidge came to kneel before Nora’s altar in 2014, when she was looking for a subject to support her master’s thesis. The unusual trajectory of Ephron’s career, which began with a groundbreaking stint in journalism and didn’t reach the directing stage until her 50s, gave Doidge something to connect with. She came to see Ephron’s fully formed and well-documented worldview as a lens through which she could look at today’s reality. “At that time, I also became invested in this idea that research shows young people are getting married less and waiting longer to do so, and I was curious to know why this is happening,” she says. “I was like, ‘Hey, here’s a woman writing through the women’s rights movement and still doing these serious romantic comedies, what would she think?'”

In addition to sketching out a compact timeline of Ephron’s early years and the career she maintained until her deathbed, Doidge’s book illuminates the contradictions of the soul contained in a cynical romantic as quick to belittle her loved ones than to love them. Ephron was famous for his fierce intellect and unflinching sense of humor, and as is often the case with funny people, the combination could alienate those in his line of sight. Friends resented the way their words or the details of their lives had a funny way of finding their way into her writing, a habit she never thought she’d require permission. As Doidge interviewed Ephron’s confidant, Richard Cohen, and talked about the many doors he opened for her, she came to understand this flint personality as someone genuinely indifferent to what others thought of her.

“When I see her in old interviews, she seems so sure of her analyses,” Doidge says. “The interviewer says she was mean to so and so, and she goes, ‘Well, you have a thing for her and I don’t.’ That was exactly how she saw it, and she wasn’t afraid to say it. If it was to make a point or make a laugh, I think she didn’t mind hurting someone. Someone recently asked me about Joan Didion and if Nora was on the wrong side of her movement. I think it’s crucial for us to realize and remember that these were women working in a context of a very different time. She was criticizing her classmates at Wellesley for what she perceived as a lack of tenacity, an unwillingness to fight for better conditions for women. I think she also found it silly let it be a thing at all. She had a complicated relationship with the concept of feminism.

Nora Ephron in 2000
Nora Ephron in 2000. Photo: Cinetext/Paramount Pictures/Allstar

With Doidge, we gradually gain a broader view of Ephron’s layered psychology and formative elements, a dotted line connecting a harsh, undesirable youth to an adult life spent merging levity with angst. His lesser-known images — This Is My Life, Mixed Nuts, the adaptation of his own novella à clef Heartburn — give us what Doidge calls “the warmth we so badly need” while crucially pairing it with a hold a sober view of the unglamorous aspects of romance or family. We’re moved by Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks’ various flirtations because they’re flawed and human in a frank, even embarrassing way, more truthful than the deathly klutziness meant to humanize so many romcom heroines. She wanted her characters to have as many facets as the people she knew best, such as her sister and regular co-writer Delia; they loved each other as much as siblings can, which is why they sometimes came to blows so badly that they cut off communication for weeks at a time.

“For better or for worse, she was the daughter of alcoholics,” Doidge explains. “It was a journey of a lifetime, understanding how someone you love, look up to and look up to can also fall apart, how to love someone that’s not just one thing. You see that again with Carl [Bernstein], whom she loved so deeply, the father of her babies, who also hurt her beyond what she could bear. But she would just brush her teeth and say ‘OK!’ and proceed to figure it out. The process of finding your person may sometimes seem different than we originally thought.

She’s present in every big-screen attraction, in the grip of her own dysfunction, but Ephron’s influence goes beyond estimation. Tom Hanks told Doidge that every movie he’s made since Saving Private Ryan has been informed in some way by one of the books his dear friend Nora gave him. Ephron led the way in Hollywood, now followed by comedians like Tina Fey and Mindy Kaling; producers who hope to play a more decisive role in the industry’s power architecture, like Reese Witherspoon, are also following in his footsteps. Ephron’s mother has always liked to say that “everything is copy,” a truism in that each year brings a batch of Ephron’s counterfeits with a fraction of the conviction and naked honesty that she engaged in each word. For her, however, the mantra referred to how art not only imitated life but translated it, putting its struggles and joys right on the page. Doidge sums it up neatly: “Not all of his films are fiction.”

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