It’s quite impressive how technologically updated Nora Ephorn was. I have to admit, she wasn’t always realistic in depicting the relationship between women and computers as she often chose to overly romanticize the connective capabilities of the internet. Her 1998 movie You’ve Got Mail was ultimately a fairy tale set in cyberspace, and in her last movie, Julie and Julia, she showed how blogging gave a woman a slightly exaggerated sense of fulfillment and meaning stifled by the demands of her corporatized world. But even then, her heightened faith in the medium was inspiring, to say the least. For Ephron, the internet was a space where one can find love, acceptance and, particularly if you’re a food blogger, freebies.
Actually, what she was more hopeful about was the ability of words to empower and transform no matter how it is communicated. In Sleepless in Seattle, for example, it was Jonah’s touching call to a radio talk show that moved countless romantic women and urged them to write to Tom Hanks’ lovelorn Sam. The articulation of emotions, struggles, insecurities and passions had a liberating effect to those who had the courage to speak up and talk about themselves despite how narcissistic one may sound. Perhaps this is what caused throngs of women and writers to fall in love with her voice because she encouraged others to find their own.
It is also perhaps this philosophy that differentiates her from Woody Allen, a filmmaker she shares a lot of similarities with. Both writer-directors wrote about contemporary relationships and derived tension from the alienation of modern urbanity. But whereas Allen preferred to bottle up his feelings and assigned spaces where these emotions are expressed (the shrink’s office, the narrative voice-over, the breaking of the fourth wall), Ephorn preferred to let them gush out like the wild orgasmic noises of Sally. Ephron purged out her characters’ neuroses by letting them indulge in talking about themselves and their problems.
Lena Dunham, in her touching tribute to Nora Ephron published in The New Yorker, wrote about Ephron’s endearing frankness, the kind that is excused because her biting words are infused with wit and cleverness. Dunham treated her as a mentor, not just as a writer but also as a single woman living in New York.
But one didn’t have to be in her physical company to have that same connection with her. A few years ago, on my mom’s fiftieth birthday, I gave her a copy of I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman. It lay comfortably on her bedside desk where from time to time, she browses through a randomly chosen essay to receive some sort of advice for problems that she may or may not have had. She was a sage and a life coach with the usual accompanying self-righteousness exchanged for bitchiness and snark, a much preferable and entertaining attitude that translated to her characters on film.
Most people will probably remember Ephorn for her trio of romantic comedies. Maybe its because cumulatively, these movies have a lot of characters that people recognize, whether it be Rosie O’Donell as Meg Ryan’s best friend in Sleepless in Seattle or as Bruno Kirby as Billy Crystal’s best friend in When Harry Met Sally. But a lot of her fans will be grateful for providing them with something bigger than her movies or written work. They will be thankful for the conversations they’ve had with Nora, for being with them and experiencing the same highs and lows, and for the enduring strength they can find in her words.