Critic on Nora Ephron: 'When Harry Met Sally...' writer's words are worth a thousand pictures
If Nora Ephron hadn’t become such a successful screenwriter and director in a world where being a successful screenwriter and director and a woman counted as novelty, she might have written some hilarious essays about the ironies of being a successful screenwriter and director and a woman. How I wish she had! I love When Harry Met Sally… as much as the next girl who wished she could have what Meg Ryan was having. But Ephron was at her most original when she could work solo, without the accommodations to others inevitably involved in making a movie, regardless of how powerful the director. The literary stylist I like to think of as My Nora was at her best when she could seize on a subject that interested her — a recipe, a divorce, her neck — consider that thing, and speak her mind. Despite the years Ephron spent growing up in Beverly Hills, hers was fundamentally a New York state of mind. And her way of looking at the world — all sharp elbowed, no-nonsense, worldly wise, and bemused — was her gift. A Dorothy Parker-sharp chronicler for the Ms. Magazine generation, My Nora’s dispatches from the 1960s and ’70s (collected in Wallflower at the Orgy, Crazy Salad, and Scribble, Scribble) inspired a generation of women who wanted to be writers just like her — me among them.
It’s easy to see why the journalist-essayist-novelist was drawn to moviemaking. The daughter of two screenwriters, the craft was in her blood. And at her scriptwriting best in Heartburn (adapted from her own rapier-sharp, novelized accounting of a divorce from Carl Bernstein) and When Harry Met Sally…, she kept her distinctive edge. It’s even easy to see why Ephron was drawn to directing — why shouldn’t she enjoy the control and power it offered, the membership in such a predominantly male club — even though visual storytelling was not particularly her strength. But the truth is — and she liked the truth — every new Nora Ephron movie made me miss My Nora more. So I’m grateful that the title essay in her 2006 best-seller I Feel Bad About My Neck brought her back to me. I’m glad she found later-life essayistic freedom in blogging.
I have no particular issues with my neck (my knees are another matter), but the author made us love her for loathing hers. Generations of writing women all wish we could have what she had.