Saturday, 30 June 2012

Grading on a curve

Every day, for the past three days, someone has written a column about Nora Ephron, about her influence, about the sense of personal loss each columnist feels.

For myself, I think Ephron, for all her journalism, novels,  for all the movies she wrote or directed, will be chiefly remembered for the quasi-trilogy of romantic comedies:  When Harry Met Sally; Sleepless in Seattle, and You've Got Mail. Of these, I think You've Got Mail and Sleepless in Seattle were the lesser works, YGM being somewhat lesser than SiS.  They were charming, witty fairy tales (inspired, according to Ephron herself, not a little by Jane Austen).  In YGM, the heroine ends up falling magically for the very fellow who has engineered the demise of her small, revered bookshop --- but it's okay; he's fabulously wealthy and she can always go work in his box bookstore.  In SiS, a woman comes to see that you really shouldn't settle for the guy with an allergy, no matter how sweet he is and perfect for you; you should drop everything and go after the dream guy you heard on the radio.  I actually quite enjoyed these two films, all evidence to the contrary, but felt mightily manipulated and rather uneasy about what they seemed to be telling us.  Of course, matters probably weren't helped by the fact that SiS came out when I was the mother of one and YGM when I was the mother of two.  I didn't even see YGM in a cinema, but riddled with commercials on TV.  I didn't get out much in those days.

When Harry Met Sally was a different kettle of fish, and not just because I went to see it the day I first learned my mother-in-law was dying.  (It's a long story.)  We tend to forget that landmark films are landmark films, simply because they are so heavily imitated.  However, can you really think of a movie like WHMS coming out before 1989?  A lot of the columnists have mentioned Annie Hall, but that's Woody Allen seeing women through his own heavily filtered lens (albeit also with Gershwin tunes).  Both Sally and Harry emerge as fully-developed characters; we're seeing both their viewpoints.  We're also treated to the rather saner viewpoints of Marie and Jess, played to perfection by Carrie Fisher and the late Bruno Kirby. ("Promise me I'll never be back out there...")

You've Got Mail and Sleepless in Seattle are fluffy confections, but When Harry Met Sally is the feast, a cinematic classic.  YGM and SiS are pop songs; WHMS is a symphony.  You get the idea.

That said, none of my favourite bits of WHMS are on YouTube.  Most of them involve Carrie Fisher --- and that faked orgasm scene in the deli has been repeated to death, so I'm including my favourite scene from Sleepless in Seattle which has everything in it that made When Harry Met Sally great: witty yet realistic dialogue, and fabulous supporting performances, supplied in this case by Victor Garber and Rita Wilson, discussing two movies that are lesser works, but still beloved by somebody. I haven't seen either of them.