If it wasn't for Nora Ephron, movie fans would probably only remember Meg Ryan for her tiny role as the unlucky wife of Top Gun's Nick "Goose" Bradshaw. Without the romantic comedy scribe and director, no one would know Ryan as Annie Reed, the quirky reporter from Sleepless in Seattle, or Sally Albright, the orgasm-faking character from When Harry Met Sally. In fact, I'm not sure the word "quirky" would be as popular if it weren't for Ephron. The writer-director's influence can be felt to this day in gems like Lena Dunham's Girls and, unfortunately, in 90 percent of the hacky stuff that Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew McConaughey star in.
The first time I saw When Harry Met Sally was around the time it was initially released on VHS. During a movie-and-pizza night with my parents, we picked up a couple of flicks, one for the adults and another for me. My choice was a high-brow teen comedy about a fart contest called King Frat while moms and pops got this movie directed by the guy who played Meathead in All in the Family, Rob Reiner. The romantic comedy's basic premise — two longtime friends eventually become romantically involved — sounded like a recipe for boredom. I was way wrong. From the moment the movie started, I was engaged by Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) and Albright (Ryan) and their two mutual friends Jess (Bruno Kirby) and Marie (Carrie Fisher). Even though they were adults and I was barely a teen, I wanted those two title characters to fall in love with each other. At the end of the night, I came away with a few nuggets of knowledge from the movies we watched: mom will never think farts are funny, Carrie Fisher can do more than play Princess Leia, Billy Crystal can be a funny dude, and watching Meg Ryan fake an orgasm on TV with my parents was awkward. When Harry Met Sally became the first movie I liked that didn't feature hockey-masked psychos, naked bimbos, lasers, or rampant vulgarity.
Whether I was happy to admit it or not, When Harry Met Sally made me realize I have a romantic side. Ew, gross.
I wasn't alone. Upon its initial release, reactions to the film were mostly positive, with many critics citing it as one of the best romantic comedies since Woody Allen's Annie Hall. After that, Ephron, who was already a well-known essayist, novelist, and screenwriter in her own right, saw a rise in her stock that afforded her the opportunity to direct films of her own, including the 1993 hit Sleepless in Seattle and 2009's Julie and Julia. Her films always possessed a certain charm and whimsy. And while her output was mostly top-notch, they weren't all hits.She did make Lucky Numbers, plus the big-screen version of Bewitched. I guess that serves as a reminder that they can't all be gems. God, Bewitched sucked.
Two weeks ago, Ephron passed away due to complications from acute myeloid leukemia, leaving behind a litany of work and the many tales she had yet to tell. Goodness knows her life provided ample material. I can think of one movie, loosely based on a real-life incident, she never made that I would've loved to have seen. Before Mark Felt revealed himself as the mysterious whistleblower Deep Throat in 2005, only a handful of people knew the truth. Ephron's husband during the Watergate scandal was Carl Bernstein, one half of the duo that brought down the Nixon administration, so she had a vague idea about who Deep Throat actually was. The narrative possibilities would have been endlessly awesome. It could have been a thriller, like her script for the 1983 biopic Silkwood, with a strong female voice peppered with some cuteness.
I can see it now: Amy Adams would play the wife of an intrepid reporter who runs her own small liberal bookstore in Seattle. She could happen upon a cookbook once owned by Deep Throat. It turns out Deep Throat is a former flame of hers that never quite went out. There could be scenes of mild intrigue coupled with scenes of witty banter over cups of coffee and orgasm-worthy sandwiches. And, like most of Ephron's work, it would leave the viewer with a warm heart and an infectious grin.