What to watch
I have been reading through the many lists of movies to watch while we are stuck in splendid isolation. One list suggested – to quote Liam Neeson from Love Actually – “We need Leo and Kate and we need them now …”. Take your position on James Cameron’s rolling blockbuster Titanic. Do we really need 46,000 tons of impending doom? And given the current circumstances, should anyone be contemplating a cruise?
I think we can do better and if a light hearted comedy is more to your liking, then there are none better than the films of Nora Ephron. So the first of our movie double this week is When Harry Met Sally… (1989). When Harry Met Sally… follows our titled protagonists over 12 years. Their relationship begins on the worst of terms, when they share a car ride from Chicago to New York. Harry declares that men and women can never truly be friends because the issue of sex will always get in the way. That would seem to be that but over the years their paths continue to cross. Eventually they develop an unlikely and close friendship but will it survive Harry’s initial supposition?
The stars, Billy Crystal, a seemingly unlikely romantic lead, and Meg Ryan, at the start of her (Ephron led) rom-com career, spin an entirely believable screen chemistry. The movie is directed by Rob Reiner who would go on to make The Princess Bride. However, it is Ephron’s writing that really stands out – mention the words ‘fake orgasm’ and most of us will be transported back to the Katz’s Deli in New York.
Ephron grew up in a household of writers – her parents were both playwrights and screenwriters. She was named after a character in an Ibsen play. Her three sisters also became screenwriters and journalists. Ephron was born in New York but grew up in Beverley Hills, California. So while Harry Met Sally… takes place in New York, our next movie will also take us across to the other side of the country to Seattle, Washington.
Nora Ephron wrote and directed Sleepless in Seattle (1993). The movie recounts the story of a recently widowed father, whose son rings up a late night radio talk show in the hope of finding his father a new partner. Meg Ryan plays a New Yorker who hears the call and is immediately infatuated. In a clear reference to the 1957 film, An Affair to Remember, she attempts to organise a rendezvous at the top of the Empire State Building.
Tom Hanks is the widowed father. He had turned down the lead role in When Harry Met Sally… but was unlikely to turn down an Ephron script again. Frankly, he is more suited to this role than that of the more cantankerous Harry. Hanks and Ryan would team up again for another Ephron movie: You’ve Got Mail (1998).
Ephron received Oscar nominations for screenwriting both of these films, having already been nominated for Silkwood (1983). Her friends considered Ephron culturally and emotionally Jewish but not religious. She was clearly influenced by another Jewish director from New York. As the great American movie critic Roger Ebert put it, her characters would be in a Woody Allen movie, if they weren’t so sunny – but that’s an appealing proposition at this time.