NORA EPHRON and The Romantic Comedy

 

A Nora Ephron Film Festival

 

When I first noticed the name Nora Ephron, it was in 1989 after watching “When Harry Met Sally”. In the 80s, I had developed a covert crush on Meg Ryan.  She was the ultimate girl next door.  She portrayed the girl you wanted to bring home to meet your parents.  If you’ve read my articles, you know what a tragedy it was when she became addicted to aesthetic surgery.  *(See Ace’s crushes Then & Now)

I’ve recently been forced into some “down time” so I decided to have a Nora Ephron film Festival. Ms. Ephron and often her sister Delia wrote and or directed 3 very successful romantic comedies.  In addition to her debut award winner “Silkwood”, which was a multi-Oscar award winner, she is best known for her work specifically with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks.  Such movies include “You’ve got mail” and “Sleepless in Seattle”.   In addition to her work with Meg Ryan, she blossomed in the romantic comedy genre with the 1989 box office hit “When Harry met Sally”.  This work starred Billy Crystal as her leading man.  The three films make for a pleasant afternoon of “Binge watching”.

 

The Ryan/Hanks team originally started in an obscure Hanks filmed called “Joe versus the Volcano”. It’s a film that Ephron would be glad to say she had nothing to do with.  Meg Ryan had actually hit the spotlight in the hit movie “Top Gun” starring Tom Cruise.  Her “Girl Next Door” attractiveness did not go unnoticed.  Although not much of a role, it was the hit movie that would land her a role in the movie inner-space starring her soon to be husband Dennis Quaid.

 

With the chemistry between Tom Hanks (The boy next door) and Meg Ryan, Nora Ephron had a winning couple she could create screenplays for. She wrote all the screenplays for all three romantic comedies.  “When Harry met Sally” was directed by Rob Reiner (Meathead of all in the family).  Nora would direct the following two movies “Sleepless and You’ve got mail”.

 

A new flavor of romantic comedy

What gave Nora Ephron movies a special flavor was her use of the soundtrack. Rob Reiner used the Standards as the soundtrack for “When Harry Met Sally”.  I believe Reiner was borrowing a tool from New York’s Woody Allen.  You can’t go wrong when scoring a movie set in New York with songs written by Rogers and Hart and the voice of Frank Sinatra and Harry Connick Jr.  This movie has remnants of the movie “Annie Hall” written all over it.  Reiner’s use of off-screen interviews with couples who were supposedly in four to five decade relationships were very “Allenesque”.

In her last movie with Hanks and Ryan, “You’ve got mail”, Ephron went with a soundtrack from more of the 70’s.  In fact reading the Soundtrack credit is often more interesting than the cast.  “You’ve got mail” was filmed in the late 90s which was the era of the PC.  I believe Ms. Ephron was trying to appeal to a new audience even though the movie was set in New York.  This time she tried something new.  “You’ve got mail” is cut like a cartoon.  If you close your eyes and listen to the sound of the staccato strings; it sounds like a Bugs Bunny cartoon.

The sound track in the earlier movie “Sleepless in Seattle” was more traditional like Reiner’s Rat Pack soundtrack with a few timely exceptions. She comes into the 50s and 70s for Joe Cocker’s version of Bye-bye Black Bird.  She even uses Hank Williams’ “Back in the Saddle again” just after Tom Hanks exclaims: “I’m getting laid this weekend”. (Not the first time the song was used as a prelude to sex)  It wouldn’t surprise me if the soundtrack sold more CDs than the movie sold DVDs. (Not taking from the movie one bit)

Sadly, Meg Ryan’s insecurities made her an unwanted commodity.   Her need for cosmetic surgery brought the Hanks/Ryan team to an end as Hanks had begun to produce films like “That Thing You Do” and Ryan was no longer the girl next door.

 

After 1998’s “You’ve got mail”, Nora Ephron would go on to write 4 more screenplays before calling it quits. The most notable of the 3 was “Bewitched”.   In 2012 Ms. Ephron would die of pneumonia secondary to Leukemia.

We do however; have the three gems of 1989, 1993 and 1998 to keep in our collection as perhaps the top Romantic Comedies of all-time.

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