By Erin Fuller
I was a college freshman the first time I saw When Harry Met Sally. An impressionable time for any number of things, but I left the theater knowing who I wanted to be when I grew up: Sally. And it wasn't just the beautiful, funny, real love story, or her way with a hat – it was the lifestyle portrayed in that, and most of Nora Ephron's movies. The small, interestingly-decorated apartments, the jobs with funny, neurotic colleagues, the poking about in flea markets and arguing loudly at delis and restaurants with glasses of wine – it all looked real, and lovely and accessible.
I read the novel "Heartburn" even earlier – probably in junior high, the first time around. It exposed me to about a thousand Washington D.C.-lifestyle issues – suburban navigation, the D.C. dinner party, the treatment of New York City as a totally reasonable commuting distance, the demands of a job in the public sector. It was so funny, and portrayed a culture that was foreign, yet fascinating – and probably set in motion my adoration for our nation's capital that led me to come here for college and never leave, 23 years later. A somewhat ironic impact from an Ephron novel, a woman so closely associated with romanticizing New York. As a result of loving "Heartburn" I sought out her lesser-known collections of feminist essays, and I am sure I am one of the few people from my hometown that renewed "Crazy Salad: Some Things About Women" repeatedly from our small, local library. (And it is worth noting, in these vagina-avoiding times, Ephron's essays about women's bodies are still funny, true and deeply relevant.)
Ephron was a media superstar. She wrote plays, and essays, and movies. Who else could have a range from Silkwood to Sleepless in Seattle, both interweaving comic and tragic elements – to varying degrees – so beautifully? Her movies are often dismissed as chick-flicks – but her box office impact is indisputable. And although writer-director-producers like Wes Anderson are often commended for their distinct aesthetic, I would argue Ephron has a similar commitment to how things sound, look, feel. Who can forget Meg Ryan peeling that apple in one perfect coil in Sleepless? Who among us didn't buy the now-iconic soundtrack to Sally? Who doesn't remember that distinctive sound of a modem from You've Got Mail? And come on – don't we all "want what she's having?"
But I think her most important legacy, at least for me, is that she presented women as complex, funny, successful and uncertain, often all at once. In Ephron films, women cried, yelled, ate, drank and had most of the funny lines. Yes, most ended in love – but in love stories that felt genuine, authentic, touching and worth-the-fight. And the characters were feminists, just like Ephron - there are any number of great scenes and lines where female characters argue any number of fallacies about gender differences - but in a way that was funny, and thought-provoking rather than strident. Trust me, that can be a really hard line to successfully navigate.
So, a life and career worth celebrating – and a great excuse to put on a fantastic movie tonight. Rest in peace, Nora. Because of you, a lot of people won't and shouldn't be satisfied until they find someone like this:
I love that you get cold when it's 71 degrees out. I love that it takes you an hour and a half to order a sandwich. I love that you get a little crinkle above your nose when you're looking at me like I'm nuts. I love that after I spend the day with you, I can still smell your perfume on my clothes. And I love that you are the last person I want to talk to before I go to sleep at night. And it's not because I'm lonely, and it's not because it's New Year's Eve. I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.
—Billy Crystal to Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally