I was thinking about my literary heroine Nora Ephron a couple days ago when I read that douchey comic Adam Carolla dug up that old chestnut of a debate: are women funny. I thought of Ephron because usually when some tool brings up this stupid argument, she as an example will usually shut him up. I was going to post an entry on my thoughts of Carolla, but hadn’t the time and really, the issue was a nonissue because compared to Carolla, even a nonfunny lady like Victoria Jackson is hilarious in comparison.
I loved Nora Ephron’s work ever since I watched Heartburn, starring Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson. It was a hilarious but also sad film about a writer whose marriage falls apart – this was based on Ephron’s own crumbling marriage. But she handled the possibly lachrymose themes with a sharp and unforgiving wit – like Jane Austen, Ephron looked at her world: upper middle class urbanite – and poked fun at its foibles, while letting the characters retain their dignity.
In the late 1980s to the 1990s, Ephron was the standard bearer of the romantic comedy. She found a muse in Meg Ryan, collaborating with the popular actress in four films – from the contemporary classic When Harry Met Sally… to the underwhelming Hanging Up. With Ryan she seemed to have hit on a formula for the romantic comedy or “chick flick”: girl meets boy, girl likes boy, then something comes between boy and girl, and finally, girl gets boy. She set a template that did become somewhat overused, but despite the genre’s innate calculatedness, her writing still had piercing one-liners and oft-poignant ruminations of the female spirit.
She wasn’t impervious to the Hollywood flop, and unfortunately, her biggest misstep: a bigscreen reboot of the 1960s fantasy sitcom Bewitched bombed spectacularly, and Ephron was nominated for her first Razzie for Worst Screenplay. But she remained surprisingly consistent in her output – her last onscreen effort was the popular Julia Child biopic Julie & Julia, starring her other muse, Streep.
It’s interesting that Ephron’s professional world crossed with some of the funniest women on film: Streep, Ryan, Julie Kavner, Catherine O’Hara, Diane Keaton, Lisa Kudrow, Rosie O’Donnell, Madeline Kahn, Jean Stapleton. If she had been born in a different era, it would’ve been Claudette Colbert or Rosalind Russell who would be uttering her pithy lines; there’s a sparkling wit to Ephron’s work that is deceptively light – like a ballet dancer a gymnast.
I love Nora Ephron’s work. I know I’ll laugh, but I also know that her heroines will also touch me deeply. She wasn’t merely a joke machine (though she was able to turn them out like Toyota), but she was a social critic. She eyed her society with a wary, sometimes cynical eye – but never forgot to include one of the most endearing elements of quality: humanity.
Click here to see Nora Ephron’s amazon.com page.