Let’s face it: The state of the modern Hollywood romantic comedy is abysmal. Sure, there have been a couple of diamonds in the rough here and there; Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Punch-Drunk Love come to mind. The bad news is that I had to reach all the way back to 2004 and 2002 for examples. For many, including myself, it feels like Hollywood is making the same movie over and over again, laden with clichés and a cast liable to include Katherine Heigl or Kate Hudson.
Rom-coms haven’t always been so terrible. When the perfect cast is teamed with a clever script, there’s no telling just how good one can be. The late Nora Ephron would know better than just about anyone. The wonderful American filmmaker passed away back in June at the age of 71, due to complications resulting from leukemia. Although she will be missed, she thankfully left behind a bevy of witty, sparkling films. Here are five of them.
Sleepless in Seattle
This 1993 gem marked the first of three times Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan were paired up in a film. It’s the best of the three. The two don’t share a scene until the final five minutes, certainly a head-scratching concept for a rom-com. But the actors, guided by Ephron’s uproarious and insightful words, kept audiences aglow, and made one of the best films of its genre in the process.
It’s a shame when a cinematic titan goes out on a terrible note; think Gene Kelly in Xanadu. Thankfully for her legacy, Ephron’s last film was the delightful and wonderfully written Julia Child biopic Julie & Julia. Ephron’s film is undoubtedly anchored by Meryl Streep’s expected outstanding turn as the noted chef/television personality, but Streep had the steady hand of a confident director.
In 1998, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan teamed up for a third time in this charming remake of the classic 1940 film The Shop Around the Corner. As I previously stated, Sleepless in Seattle is the best of their films, but this tale about two fierce business competitors who don’t know they are flirtatious pen pals via AOL (remember, 1998) is heartwarming and, per the usual with Ephron, very funny.
Not all of Ephron’s work was in the realm of romantic comedies. Most people do not realize that before she started making movies, she was a respected journalist. Her journalistic instincts show in this 1983 classic about a woman who seeks to expose the wrongdoings of the fuel fabrication site that she works at. Mike Nichols directed this dynamite thriller, using Ephron’s rookie script, but given its caliber, you definitely wouldn’t know it was her first effort.
When Harry Met Sally…
Yes, I saved the best for last. This one may have been directed by Rob Reiner, but it’s hard to think of this 1989 rom-com masterpiece as anything but an Ephron picture. Her vivacious wit, her cunning insights into relationships and her unabashed romanticism are at full speed ahead here. Stars Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan display some of the silver screen’s best chemistry ever, but given the stellar script involved, I don’t think it’s unfair to say that a banana and a shoe could have mined decent chemistry out of it. And of course, who can forget, “I’ll have what she’s having“.
Nora Ephron will never be ranked among the all-time comedy greats like Woody Allen, Ernst Lubitsch and Billy Wilder. But her films are sure to bring joy to audiences for decades to come.
Zack Mandell is a movie enthusiast, writer of movie reviews, and owner of movieroomreviews.com which has great information on actresses such as Meg Ryan. He writes extensively about the movie industry for sites such as Gossip Center, Yahoo, NowPublic, and Helium.