On the Brilliance of Nora Ephron

There are a number of things that a writer should aspire to have in order to be considered truly successful. One of those things (among others, like fame and obviously, success), is a distinctive, unique voice that he/she will be proud to call her own. Edgar Allan Poe had it, Hemingway had it, Woody Allen has it… and so did Nora Ephron.

Although not awarded by the Academy for her work, Ephron made and/or wrote some of the most iconic romantic comedies in American cinema: Sleepless in Seattle, When Harry Met Sally, and You’ve Got Mail. Her last film was Julie and Julie, a heartwarming comedy that juxtaposed the story of legendary home cook Julia Child with that of Julie Powell, a young woman working her way through cooking all the recipes in Child’s famous cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

I decided to take a break from all the dancing and the singing I had been watching over the past few days [musicals] in order to enlighten myself with Ephron’s work. I borrowed a compilation of her essays from my school library and found her writings so magnetic that I ended up finishing the book on the same day that I had borrowed it. Needless to say, Ephron’s films have the same quality. I have summarized below some common themes that I noticed after seeing two out the three films that Nora Ephron is most known for (she’s done other films, mind you).

Repetitive Leads

If in the Philippines, the concept of love teams is popular– in the case of Nora Ephron, she seems to favor Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. Both actors are wildly talented, extremely good-looking, and yet, they exude a quality of normalcy that seems to have diminished in the modern day romantic comedy. In short, Hanks and Ryan seem like real people– and it is this quality that makes Ephron’s films feel realistic.

Opinionated Ladies

Some might dismiss Kathleen Kelly and Annie Reed as overtly talkative female characters, but I find their over-dialogue rather endearing. It shows that they’re substantial female leads who happen to have personality, instead of being shallow, emotional, hopeless romantics. The way they veer away from the traditional, societal depiction of women serves as a positive example to female viewers, showing the ladies that they need not change themselves into obedient and shallow people just so they can get the guy.

Technology As a Medium for Introduction

In You’ve Got Mail, an ancient (by today’s standards) online chatroom becomes the place where Kathleen Kelly and Joe Fox meet. In Sleepless in Seattle, Annie Reed is first introduced to Sam Baldwin through a radio show. Tech romance was a relatively new concept back then, but these days, with shows like Catfish, this concept is explored carefully in recent films. One memorable romance through the net in recent years was Hilary Duff’s in A Cinderella Story. Remember Princeton Girl?

That “Voice”

As mentioned earlier, Ephron’s films have a distinctive voice that have made them some of the most memorable movies of the 20th century. Her characters speak with a unique mix of wit and intelligence that is just so.. distinctive in its own right that it becomes difficult to forget. As I watched her films, I looked back on that book of essays I got to read and realized just how similar her writing voice was to that of her characters. It just goes to show how much of herself she put into the screenplays for her movies. In an age where some movies are made solely for the purpose of making money, Ephron’s passion is an almost extinct find.

Cliche Cheesiness

Despite characteristics that go contrary to the modern idea of the romantic comedy, Ephron’s films are still considered as some of the best rom coms ever made. This is because at the end of the day, she manages to weave stories whose endings are in themselves, iconic movie moments. The scene at the top of the Empire State Building in Sleepless in Seattle, and the garden scene at the end of You’ve Got Mail… both are moments that are both so Hollywood, and yet seem so… so… heartwarming all at the same time.


When I first heard of Ephron’s death two years ago, I was not as upset but felt sad nonetheless. I had heard her name and of her work before, and as a film buff, it was a sad, sad loss. Now that I’ve taken the time to familiarize myself with her films, needless to say my sentiments have changed. We lost a unique talent in Nora Ephron. Thankfully, her work continues to live on. We can only hope that women filmmakers and writers will follow in her footsteps and create movies that will be remembered for years to come.

Fun Fact: When Harry Met Sally just celebrated the 25th anniversary of its release last April!

Nora directed Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail, and actually won a Bafta (British Oscar) for her screenplay work on When Harry Met Sally. 😉


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