When Nora Ephron came to the 1989 Vancouver press junket for When Harry Met Sally, she did something memorable: She shook hands with each of the journalists, gave us her toothy smile, and asked for our names and publications.
In a world where people are divided between “talent” and “press,” it felt flattering to be individualized, a salutation from one of the tribe who had crossed over to the other side. Though she had already been nominated for an Academy Award as co-screenwriter 1983’s Silkwood, most of us still thought of her as a journalist who had found a nice sideline. Silkwood, based on a true story, was dramatized journalism. Her 1986 film Heartburn, based on her breakup with Carl Bernstein, was dramatized first-person journalism.
As a screenwriter, she was then just another subordinate in the movie-making system. As a journalist, she was a superstar, whose acerbic influential style appeared in Esquire, New York and countless other publications.
Then came When Harry Met Sally. The film was promoted not as a romcom but a buddy movie – Rob Reiner and Billy Crystal were the models for the leads, with Meg Ryan a female stand-in, and at the press conference Ephron deferred to her male collaborators.
Of course, what we most remember now is Meg Ryan’s fake orgasm scene, which was definitely Ephron’s idea.
And Ephron went on to establish the post-Woody Allen template for romantic comedy, invariably a tale about two lonely, deserving people who love old movies and who are lucky enough to find each other.
As she told the Los Angeles Times: “It struck me that the movies had spent more than half a century saying, ‘They lived happily ever after’ and the following quarter century warning that they’ll be lucky to make it through the weekend. Possibly now we are entering a third era, in which the movies will be sounding a note of cautious optimism: You know, it just might work.”