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David Poland

By David Poland

Nora Ephron Passes… And A Generation Loses One Of Its Defining Voices

Nora Ephron was not Woody Allen. But she was every bit as much a living definition of a time and place in New York… a woman of an era… a liberal of a time… A Westsider… satisfied with her place in life yet never quite satisfied. She was a successful Boomer, and all that goes with that… the almost smug self-assurance and the endless self-examination.

During the last presidential election, she was passionate about a Democrat winning the White House, but she came to define the fear on the Left that Democrats can’t win. That fear continues into this election season, making the greatest vulnerability of the incumbent the fear of his primary constituency that “right” is not might. Can a progressive centrist win the case for hope against cynicism and extremism when his base is terrified to lose what it has gained? My generation, the one just behind Ms. Ephron’s, must become radical centrists. True believers that we can share a diverse vision of our daily lives and still come together as a nation over something besides war.

As a writer and sometimes director, Ephron’s defined a decade of rom-coms (ironically, the weakest period of Woody Allen’s career, both financially and artistically) and wrote relationships that women used to define their own status. If Mazursky was her precursor, Sex & The City was her aftermath, a generation unlikely to read Ephron’s recipes as they were to line up at a bakery for $4 cupcakes.

By every appearance, she was a good person. She didn’t have a rep as a diva, except amongst those who see all strong women as divas.

Even though I don’t count her work amongst my personal favorites, I always got what she was doing and why audiences most often responded with great pleasure.

I will still think of her every time I walk NY’s upper west side. She will be missed… and in her perspective, an entire generation.

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45 Responses to “Nora Ephron Passes… And A Generation Loses One Of Its Defining Voices”

  1. scooterzz says:

    i’ve always made fun of nora ephron’s films as products of an entitled and nepotistic career…but, in reality, her p.o.v. was pretty sharp (even if it wasn’t something i agreed with)…that said, it’s a cruel world where nora ephron dies and nancy myers lives….jus’ sayin’…

  2. scooterzz says:

    oh, and it should be mentioned that she looooooooved food…not good-for-you food but bad-for-you food…and i liked that about her…A LOT!

  3. Glenn says:

    That unofficial trilogy of “When Harry Met Sally…”, “Sleepless in Seattle” and “You’ve Got Mail” (the latter two of which she directed as well as co-wrote) are just about the three best romantic comedies of the last… gosh, 30 years? Such wit and intelligence she had, so it’s such a loss. Even if she had some bad movies in her time (don’t they all), her successes were worth it. I kinda love that all three of those have a different angle – two people friends for years who then fall in love / two people who’ve never met and fall in love / two people who hate each other but don’t know that they’re actually in love. Nothing quite gets me out of the doldrums like a Nora Ephron romcom.

    Of course, to say nothing of “Silkwood” is criminal. One of the very best, that.

    Of course, her books and essays were true treasure and I can’t recommend her AFI tribute to Meryl Streep enough. I watch it frequently it’s that funny (youtube “nora ephron meryl streep” and it’ll be the first result).

  4. The Pope says:

    Thanks for the link. I’m not a huge fan of Sleepless and less of Mail, but Harry and Sally are two of my best friends. I adore that picture and that gets her a pass into movie heaven. I’m sure she got there a long time ago, starting with, as you say, Silkwood.

  5. Tuck Pendelton says:

    Some of her efforts didn’t pan out. Mixed nuts and that Travolta-Kudrow movie are dreadful. Heard Bewitched blew.

    But sections of Julie & Julia are just wonderful. I have a huge soft spot for You’ve Got Mail. Sleepless is way overplayed on cable, so you forget it’s a very touching, funny film. Harry met Sally is a legitimate classic. Never seen Heartburn.

    In a town of very few female directors. And fewer Writer-Directors, it’s very sad news.

  6. tim1313 says:

    I’m stunned how many people are bowing down to Mrs. Ephron this morning.

    It is sad for her friends and especially her family that she has passed, but if we are remembering her by her body of work (specifically film on this site), there really wasn’t much to make note of. A few pop culture catch phrases? The rest of her work is below average-to-wretched.

    It’s ok to mourn the loss of a friend or a presense, but let’s not overstate the work of someone just because they’re gone. Shake yourselves!

  7. The Pope says:

    No Tim, you’re wrong. No two ways. Plain and simple.

  8. movielocke says:

    She was such a great writer and a damned good director.

    It’s irritating that critics and bloggerati and the chattering cineaste class of online snobs who have spent most of the last decade ripping her work to shreds as often as they rip the genre itself will soon be falling over themselves with praise for her. (is anything more despised these days than the romantic comedy? Just how much would Ernst Lubitsch, Preston Sturges & Billy Wilder be despised today for their ‘lighter films’ if they were churning out comedies in today’s environs of hate and contempt for all non-macho or non-indy-tragic cinema?)

    I have a sneaking feeling that while everyone has always caged their contempt of Ephron with an ‘exception’ for When Harry Met Sally, her reputation is now going to soar, and within a year, You’ve Got Mail and Sleepless in Seattle will be held up as modern pinnacles of romantic comedies, unappreciated films that were shockingly unrecognized for their brilliance in original release.

  9. tim1313 says:

    How so, Pope? Are you going to argue for any of her films as great pieces of work? Shoot… even a contemporary of Ephron’s like Nancy Meyers is mountains more talented than Mrs. Ephron was, but because Ephron was a Hollywood insider and friend to many, her work is being overstated this morning.

    And… btw, I get that reaction. If she was my friend I would be doing the same, but Poland and other critics shouldn’t be glad handing like that. I’m not saying to trash her on her day of rememberance, but don’t freaking put it up on a pedestal for chrissakes.

  10. tim1313 says:


    I can’t believe you just lumped Lubitsch and Sturges into the same range as Ephron. Maybe Wilder when he started to decline, but Lubitsch and Sturges?!? This is the exact kind of inflating of stature that I’m talking about.

    Don’t mistake Ephron corrupting “The Shop Around The Corner” and calling it “You’ve Got Mail” as a sign of her being in the same league as Lubitsch.

  11. JKill says:

    WHEN HARRY MET SALLY is a brilliant screenplay, and HEARTBURN is pretty great too.

  12. greg says:

    I’m with Pope. Wrong on this one Tim.. not a good take at all…

  13. The Pope says:

    Granted, when it came to directing, Nora Ephron was efficient. But when it came to writing, few writers could do what she did. I need to only mention one title pretty much everyone agrees when Harry met Sally… assures her a place on the pedestal. And that is only her movie writing.
    Gently I say that if you’ve come selling an argument, you’re in the wrong store.

  14. LexG says:

    I haven’t seen WHEN HARRY MET SALLY in 20 years… I have an itching suspicion that while still a great movie, Billy Crystal is probably SUPER EMBARRASSING IN IT.

    Doesn’t he do some karaoke OKLAHOMA deal about FISH AND GEESE BETTER HURRY or something?

  15. SamLowry says:

    My only gripe is with Julie & Julia, which is really just a reflection of the current obsession with women “famous for being famous” (remember when Zsa-Zsa was it?). A woman announces she’ll cook every recipe in “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”, gains media attention (why?), a book deal, then a movie WHERE SHE’S LISTED FIRST IN THE TITLE.

    The real celebrity here, offered up only because she “highlights similarities in the women’s challenges”, is so whitewashed that her years as a spy in WW2 were ignored in favor of scenes of domestic lassitude.

    I’m just waiting for a teacher to call the media to announce that his class is going to read every page of Moby Dick, but instead of a camera crew knocking on his door it’s deputies who bust him for exposing kids to gay porn.

  16. bulldog68 says:

    Dave is quite capable of defending himself, but where in his above statement is he “glad handing” anything?

    He acknowledges that her works were not among his favorite while at the same time understanding why others liked it. And I feel the same. Sleepless and Mail are two films I could never rewatch, but it appealed to the sensibilities of a great many females and fewer males, and you’re not glad handing because you acknowledge her contribution, be it good, bad, or indifferent.

  17. The Pope says:

    I think you’re putting the cart before the horse…

    Julie Powell was not a famous woman to begin with. She decided to write a blog about cooking every recipe in Julia Child’s book. The blog viralled out to incredible popularity and on those grounds, a book deal was struck. The book proved even more popular and so a movie was made. That was the angle of the blog and that was the angle of the book. Child’s being a spy was not evident in the movie because that is not what the movie was about…

    As for your analogy about a teacher reading Moby Dick in class and then being busted for exposing kids to gay porn is completely bewildering… You’re lambasting J&J for not telling the truth while drawing an analogy where someone is accused of doing something they are not. How does that equate?

  18. tim1313 says:


    But acknowledging that others liked it (Ephron’s film work) by noting she “defined a decade of rom coms” or that her films “appealed to many females” is like praising James Wan for defining 00’s horror with his Saw franchise. They were successes, but are they worthy of posthumous artistic praise? No.

    Obviously many here disagree with that. I mean, I don’t even understand the reverance for “When Harry Met Sally”. It’s a culurally iconic, but not… good. If the collective today wanted to pay tribute to someone who had an effect on pop culture, fine, but I continue to read these obits (see MCN’s main page) about Ephron’s film artistry. Bullbunk!

    But, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. It’s all just a reflection of our declining film culture. The passing of Nora Ephron gets more love from a film blog than the passing of Ken Russell? Hmmm… ok.

  19. SamLowry says:

    I thought I made that point clear with “A woman announces she’ll cook every recipe in “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”, gains media attention (why?)”…meaning that a nobody becomes famous merely for cooking every recipe in Julia Childs’ book…WHY?

    I was also attacking the movie for focusing on Julie, a nobody, and providing Julia frickin’ Child merely as window dressing to show just how hard Julie’s life is. Awww.

    This eclipsing of Child is what pissed me off the most, because if someone ever does want to make a movie about HER and not some carbon-copy nobody, about HER truly interesting and exciting life, you can guarantee that every exec will say “She was already in a movie–that Julie thing.” This was her one shot at a movie and now it’s gone, because the morons decided to focus instead on a nobody. Thank you, Mike Judge, for predicting the future again.

    And my Moby Dick story was an attempt, perhaps a poor one, to explain that nobodies will soon try to gain publicity for doing what they should be doing, namely, reading an assigned book (Maybe I should’ve gone with “Man on Prius assembly line installs door, seeks book and movie deal”). The “busted for teaching gay porn” was a joke, actually, and a tangential slam at dipshit officials who don’t know what they’re doing. (I do believe there’s a member of the Westboro Church running for a previously-unopposed school board seat somewhere, and has promised to bring the “Thank God for IEDs” rants to board meetings.)

  20. Ray Pride says:

    Tim, the criterion has been what’s an interesting read about Ephron. Anything about Ken Russell in his later years that popped up got linked on the front page, including to a notable exhibit of his early work as a street photographer. As for writerly outpourings, Russell, unlike Ephron, was not close to the makers of media in New York City.

  21. LexG says:

    That dude just said “bullbunk”?

    Ugh, that was more embarrassing than Billy Crystal doing funny voices.

  22. Joe Leydon says:

    Tim1313: If you want to argue that Ken Russell was a better and/or more ambitious director than Nora Ephron, you likely could make a strong case. But if the question is who’s had the bigger and longer lasting influence on popular culture — well, sorry, it’s not even close.

  23. The Pope says:

    Okay now I get your Moby Dick/gay porn schtick. You’re right; the Prius assembly line joke would have been better and better understood.

  24. JS Partisan says:

    I have rewatched “Sleepless in Seattle” about 50 times. It’s very a rewatchable movie as are “You Got Mail” and “When Harry Met Sally.” Mail is a bit dated, but it’s still a quality flick. How anyone is giving Nora Ephron shit, of all people, is really mystifying. She’s the Romcom John Hughes. Hating or belittling either, to me, is absolutely baffling.

    It’s as baffling as bitching and moaning about Julie and Julia. Seriously Sam, that movie is fucking wonderful. You shitting on it because you wanted a Julia Childs movie, ignores that the movie is about how Julia inspired Julie to change her life through that cook book. If that does not work for you as a proper framing device for a story, then obviously the film’s charms are lost on you.

  25. bulldog68 says:

    So you’re saying Tim1313 that her films did not ‘define a decade of rom coms?’ Or that her films ‘did not appeal to females?’

    I don’t know whether you’re accusing Dave or myself of lumping ‘artistic praise’ on Ephron, but becoming a cultural reference has nothing to do with art IMO. It’s all about reaching people at a certain level, and giving them something that they identify with. I think your James Wan comparison is way off in this regard in that the Saw franchise was just popular, and not widely popular at that, just popular for it’s genre.

    I don’t think Ephron herself thought that her films were anything more than pop culture romance novels with hopefully a few strong emotional riffs. She succeeded in that regarded and many of the modern rom coms borrow liberally from her in hopes of recreating it. To deny that she had that impact is just allowing your dislike of her material to color your opinion.

  26. Triple Option says:

    Not attempting to speak for tim1313 or come down on anyone here but in general this sort of pattern seems to always present itself at the time of someone’s passing. There can be a lot of praise or what seems like an inordinate amount of praise cuz a lot of people get to say something nice about someone. Sometimes people gush. Now may the person is given praise here or there while still alive. Maybe that person’s next project or effort is highly touted or maybe just a smackering of anticipation. So, by proportion, at the time of the person’s passing it can seem like the person is up for inclusion on Mt Rushmore or the like. If someone says something along the lines of “I liked this person but let’s keep this gushing in check” that person is then often relegated as a hater. Then the accusations of “your hate has clouded the perspective” that is countered by your stalker-creepy crush as blown that person’s importance out of the stratosphere. There’s praise, then there’s backlash, then back & forth. History, good pr and cheap license fees will ultimately set the order…or not. Haha. Just a long way of saying, don’t get too worked up, it is what it is. As maddening as that may seem.

  27. SamLowry says:

    Unless she had something in the works that has yet to appear, the time to discuss her is now because there very likely won’t be another occasion to examine her body of work.

  28. berg says:

    If you want to argue that Ken Russell was a better and/or more ambitious director than Nora Ephron, you likely could make a strong case …

    I see an opera about every 28 years, saw Der Rosenkavilier earlier this year, and saw a Russell directed HGO production of Madame Butterfly in 1983 1984 (?)

  29. Ray Pride says:

    They didn’t come so fast and furious, but every time I saw an article about Ken Russell in the past few years that had any kind of juice to it, it got put on the front page or at Movie City Indie.

  30. lazarus says:

    I’ve got Tim’s back on this one. And funny that IO should mention John Hughes, because there was the same kind of undeserved hyperbole for an inconsistent and middlebrow talent when he died. That Hughes received a separate memorial at the Academy Awards (with a bunch of his has-been actors in attendance) was one of the most disgraceful things in the show’s history, especially considering that brilliant artists like Newman or Brando were just stuffed in the pile with everyone else who died in their respective years.

    For fuck’s sake, the New York Times front page article said this:

    “Nora Ephron, an essayist and humorist in the Dorothy Parker mold (only smarter and funnier, some said) who became one of her era’s most successful screenwriters and filmmakers…”

    Some said, huh? Who are those idiots? We’ll see if Ephron is revered 75 years from now on the level that Parker is today. When Harry Met Sally is an entertaining film, yeah. It was also directed by Rob Reiner, not Ephron. Can we give him some of the credit? Look at Ephron’s filmography and the majority of it is just dreck.

    Yes, female writer-directors who get a chance to make Hollywood films are in short supply. And Ephron certainly had some talent. But let’s celebrate the fact that we still have a visionary like Jane Campion around instead of bemoaning our loss of more films like Bewitched or Julia and Julia.

  31. SamLowry says:

    “…Julia inspired Julie to change her life through that cook book”

    I’m wondering when we’ll see a movie about Chilton inspiring a mechanic to change his life. Maybe he’ll cross America on an epic trek to find him, only to have a kid with a smartphone reveal the company chose “Chilton” at random from the Mayflower’s passenger list.

    At the very least we can be grateful that Julie didn’t need to travel to Thailand and pray with some Buddhists to find her bliss. Or, as Sandip Roy put it, “I couldn’t help wondering, where do those people in Indonesia and India go away to when they lose their passion, spark and faith? I don’t think they come to Manhattan. I wonder if there could be an exchange program for the passion-deprived, a sort of global spark-swap.”

    (This Cracked article is even more sarcastic, and funnier.)

  32. tim1313 says:

    “As for writerly outpourings, Russell, unlike Ephron, was not close to the makers of media in New York City.”


    That is kind of my point. I think Ephron is getting a lot of praise in her passing BECAUSE she was close to the “makers of media”. And, again, I can understand that sentiment to an extent because these media members lost a friend. BUT, they also have a responsibility to the art/culture that they critique.

    Further, this stresses the point about filmmakers being close to the media/critics. It’s not good. It’s why the Eberts and Harry Knowleses of our culture lob softball reviews of films that are atrocious. They don’t want to bite the hand that feeds.

  33. Ray Pride says:

    Tim: Yup.

  34. tim1313 says:

    “If you want to argue that Ken Russell was a better and/or more ambitious director than Nora Ephron, you likely could make a strong case. But if the question is who’s had the bigger and longer lasting influence on popular culture — well, sorry, it’s not even close.”


    I acknowledged that, but influence on pop culture does not warrant cinematic canonical praise. Sean Cunningham has had a huge impact on pop culture. Will we prop him up on a pedastal of film superiority when HE passes?

  35. SamLowry says:

    “It’s why the Eberts and Harry Knowleses of our culture lob softball reviews of films that are atrocious.”

    Ebert has said many times that he’ll give a passing grade to a genre movie which on a scale of Ingmar Bergman to Ed Wood would score near the bottom as long as it satisfies basic genre requirements enough to please a more Ed Wood-oriented ticketbuyer.

    Can’t speak for Knowles, but considering the “Tears of Armageddon” episode I suppose he lives and breathes at the Ed Wood end of the scale.

  36. Yancy Skancy says:

    I’ve got nothing for or against Ephron, really (liked a couple of her films, indifferent to some, missed the ones that everyone seems to hate), but I’m not sure what’s so shocking/distasteful about obits that accentuate the positive. She had some hit films and books, got three Oscar nods, was one of the few women (especially of her age) to be regularly employed by Hollywood. How’s her obit supposed to read? “Inconsistent filmmaker/author Nora Ephron died today at 71…”? Even if the encomiums were twice as laudatory as they are, what’s the harm? Worried that some yahoo in the heartland is going to get a skewed picture of her talents and influence?

    I’m also getting the impression that some of you don’t realize she ever did anything but make films. She made her bones as a reporter, essayist and humorist, with several best-selling collections to her name before she ever wrote a script.

  37. spassky says:

    boomer exceptionalism at its worse. gah.

  38. JS Partisan says:

    Praising John Hughes is disgraceful? You’ve posted some weird fucking things on this blog, Laz; but that post takes the cake. Seriously, it’s looney tunes, but Ephron endures like Hughes endures. Get ready for the rest of your life, when these inconsistent and middlebrow talents and their work, is constantly shoved in your face.

    Sam, do your students have to deal with this level of cattiness, or do you only unleash it online about quality movies about Julie and Julia?

  39. SamLowry says:

    I’m certain 99% of the students I work with will live their entire lives without ever hearing about Julia Child, which is why I was hoping for a fonder remembrance of her than as generic guru invoked only to validate the life of a modern nobody.

  40. Joe Leydon says:

    Sam: No offense, but someone looking at it from another angle would say Julia Child was just a cookbook writer. All things considered, I think she would probably prefer to be known for the movie you obviously dislike than for, say, Dan Aykroyd’s SNL sketches.

  41. scooterzz says:

    leydon — several years ago i attended a breakfast (sponsored by the food network) supervised by julia child and jacques pepin…she spent about 30 minutes at my table and seemed genuine when she talked about how much she loved the dan aykroyd stuff…. that said, long-time child colleague sara moulton has gone on record as saying that child “hated” powell’s julie/julia blog…so, i’m not so sure ephron’s film would be her chosen legacy…just a thought…

  42. SamLowry says:

    Yep: “Dishes Moulton: ‘I don’t think Julia would have approved, primarily, because she didn’t like the idea of the ‘Julie & Julia’ book.'”

    And “…Paul really inspired her to blossom. She wanted to enter his world, which was so much more cultured than hers had been.”

    But what was his world? Why did she follow him to France after their wedding? He was a spy, or rather a propagandist (is there a difference?), and though they met as spies during the war, just like Rosie the Riveter she was sent packing once it was over and had to adjust to being “merely” a housewife.

    Sure, her file was declassified only a year before the movie appeared, but even if there wasn’t room to mention her work in Ceylon and China during the war you’d think they would’ve mentioned the shark repellent she helped to whip up–couldn’t toss out a quip while trying to master Sole meunière?

    (And I can’t believe I learned while researching this that Dickens was the first to mention “fried fish”, in Oliver Twist, and “chips”, in A Tale of Two Cities. Those pictures on the wiki page are practically pornographic, or maybe I’m just hungry.)

  43. palmtree says:

    Nora Ephron was a pioneer. How many other women screenwriters have been so successful, so long of career, and so distinct in voice? To not celebrate her achievements would be more shocking.

  44. Foamy Squirrel says:

    “He was a spy, or rather a propagandist (is there a difference?)”

    Yup, there is. To give you an idea, a propagandist from Bosnia drew up a list of “Things Skippy Is No Longer Allowed To Do In The US Army”.

  45. SamLowry says:

    Until I got to #165, I had no idea whether “Specialist Schwarz” was male or female. A lot of these ideas would’ve been even more amazing if the latter were true.

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