Films of the Week | 10th January 2022
It’s splurge time, with three Nora Ephron films (as writer and/or director), all ‘free’ if you subscribe to Amazon Prime:
- WHEN HARRY MET SALLY. 1989. Rob Reiner (written by Nora Ephron).
- SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE. 1993. Nora Ephron.
- YOU’VE GOT MAIL. 1998. Nora Ephron.
WHEN HARRY MET SALLY
Watching When Harry Met Sally again reminds me how long ago it was (I saw it when I was forty-five!). Meg Ryan’s performance, though good, seems more dated, perhaps more calculated, in relation to Billy Crystal’s more reserved acting. David Thomson says that he is ‘overshadowed’ by Meg Ryan. I don’t think he is. Lots of fun, and the nostalgic soundtrack made Harry Connick Jr a star.
According to the writer, Nora Ephron, the line, “I’ll have what she’s having,” was suggested by Billy Crystal, and the lady who says it was played by the director’s mother in her only professional appearance. The deli where it was filmed is still in business, with a plaque on the table where the scene was filmed reading, ‘Where Harry met Sally…. Hope you have what she's had!’
Nora Ephron, who was uncharacteristically generous for a Hollywood hack, also credited Meg Ryan with thinking of the faked orgasm scene in the first place, and with setting it in a restaurant. The scene took many takes but not as many as the four-way telephone conversation, which took sixty-one takes because it had to be done live without cutaways. Such is the slickness of so much that appears on our screens that it is valuable to be reminded that films are damned hard to make.
SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE
This is a remake, or an adaptation, of Leo McCarey’s An Affair to Remember from 1957, which in turn is his remake of his Love Affair of 1939, and references are scattered throughout. The two stars spend only two minutes of screen time together, on the set built in a disused Seattle aircraft hangar to look like the observation deck of the Empire State Building, and they never kiss.
YOU’VE GOT MAIL
This is a remake, or an adaptation, of Ernst Lubitsch’s The Shop Around The Corner, used in You’ve Got Mail as the name of the children’s bookshop, a risky reminder of the original film; but if viewers are prompted to hunt down the Lubitsch film, a Film Club choice in the days when we actually watched films together, all to the good. The original is a classic, leaner, funnier, more moving.
Whether or not you think that the film glosses over, or justifies, the late-capitalist tendency of big business to swallow, Amazon-like, everything in its path, removing choice while pretending to offer it, may depend on your political viewpoint; but I wonder if Nora Ephron would feel the same about the plot today as she did then.
In Sleepless in Seattle, Pride and Prejudice is on Annie’s lap in the aeroplane, and it is a touchstone of taste in You’ve Got Mail. There is a dissertation waiting to be written about how Jane Austen is used in rom-com films as an indicator that the heroine is going to get what she wants, grabbing the apparently out-of-reach and inevitably wealthy hero and living happily ever after. This misses the irony, the analytical intelligence, the moral clarity, of the writer who used romance as a device to dissect the society she quietly observed from the wings – it misses the point, in other words. If people read Jane Austen to make them feel better about the world and their prospects within it, they are not reading her properly. When I hear people say, “Oh, I LOVE Jane Austen,” I wonder if they are aware that they are the very people that Jane Austen is satirising.
Which of these three films would you take to your desert island? If you have the time, let me know.