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Meg Shone But Real Star Was On Sidelines

Some are surprised by the fact but some guys like movies that are fun and romantic more than ones which feature a lot of things blowin’ up. I’m one of those guys, so I don’t mind when my sweetie wants to snuggle up for the evening and put on a classic Romcom movie. Now there were some goofily fun ones made in the ’50s and her beloved Jane Austen wrote works which had the romance if not the comedy part of the equation, some of which have been made into perfectly acceptable period movies. But for me, you can’t do any better in that genre of film than the trio of late-20th Century smashes from Nora Ephron : “When Harry Met Sally”, “Sleepless in Seattle” and “You’ve Got Mail.” All three had complicated romances, and all three had Meg Ryan as the female lead. Not a bad formula at all.

So I quite enjoyed reading the book I’ll Have What She’s Having, loosely a biography of writer and director Ephron, but more specifically an in depth look at those three movies and how they came about. The Erin Carlson book looks at Nora’s upbringing and her turbulent marriage to Watergate reporter (made heroic in the book and movie All the President’s Men) Carl Bernstein, which itself resulted in the movie Heartburn, and ends by filling us in a little on Ephron’s life after the three movies mentioned as well as those of the main stars. Still the bulk of the book is on the works Carlson says “saved the romantic comedy.”

Whether or not it did that, Nora certainly raised the bar for the type of film and made Ms. Ryan into America’s sweetheart. Whether coincidentally or not, Ryan probably looks the best in the book, generally as nice to be around and as bright as her movie characters. Tom Hanks also comes out looking good, a little reluctant to do so many romance movies but good to everyone on set and a great actor. Billy Crystal and Rob Reiner are seen in fine light… really the only featured person (besides the ever-philandering Bernstein) who isn’t shown to be a joy to be near was Ephron herself. Ephron is depicted as prickly, short-tempered and rather close-minded. However, that might be what made her a great movie-maker. She was also obsessively attentive to detail and had a great sense of dialog and movie pacing. Reading the book, one comes to expect none of the three movies would have amounted to much had it not been for Nora’s vision for them and insistence on certain actors being cast and scenes being shot.

Fans of the three movies will be interested in a lot of the trivia that resulted in them being like they were. An entire storyline cut out of You’ve Got Mail to keep it to under two and a half hours. The iconic “baby fish mouth” in When Harry Met Sally being adlibbed by Bruno Kirby. And of course, the punchline the book got its name from, the classic diner scene in When Harry Met Sally in which prim Sally fakes an orgasm at the table… to Harry’s mortification. Turns out that was Meg’s idea, and Rob Reiner (the director) thought it was brilliant… until he began to sweat when his own mom was brought on set!

However, even if these films aren’t your cup of tea and you prefer ones with a lot of explosions and perhaps heroes in capes, if you’re a fan of Hollywood and films in general, it could be interesting. Carlson details much of the film-making process, and how a so-so script is edited, tweaked and rewritten, sets are searched for and meticulously created, lighting sculpted, the processes of finding the right actor for the roles and much more that would be as applicable to a Marvel adaptation or teen gross-out flick as it would a mature romcom.

A fun and interesting read. I’ll give it 3.5 AOL mailboxes out of five.

9 Replies to “Meg Shone But Real Star Was On Sidelines”

  1. I have seen and liked several of her films. Besides the 3 you mention Julie & Julia and Michael are two I particularly enjoyed. It’s too bad she passed on so young. I like it when great male directors are heralded for things that female directors get characterized as being something negative for. I appreciate you saying this part:
    “Ephron is depicted as prickly, short-tempered and rather close-minded. However, that might be what made her a great movie-maker. She was also obsessively attentive to detail and had a great sense of dialog and movie pacing.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Lisa. Yes, I liked ‘Julie & Julia’ also…book touched on it & ‘Michael’ too…I am not sure if I ever saw that one. I sometimes think people are too quick to yell ‘discrimination’ but I think what you allude to is fairly true…if she’d been male she would have been seen in better light as a visionary, uncompromising film maker.
      She suffered for quite a few years with cancer it seems but hid it well from most.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m not a huge romantic comedy guy but I love the 3 you highlighted. I also like some of the 50’s movies also. It depends on how it was done. But if you count something like Benny and Joon…that I went for…so I guess I like them more than I thought.

    Only rarely do I watch destruction type films…hey I can always watch Die Hard on a boring Sunday…the one romantic one I don’t like is Hope Floats…no just no.


    1. Oh ya – “Bennie and Joon”, that was quite good. Think it was first time I became aware of Johnny Depp.
      Ephron’s three biggies are about as good as it gets in that category (to borrow the title of one not quite so good!)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh they were good…they were also a little deep…more than some bad romantic ones are…that is why I liked them.


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