Under those circumstances, it’s hard for anyone to have a voice. So when a writer comes along that does have a distinctive stamp, they tend to have something special.
Nora Ephron was one such writer. She had a real talent for writing rom coms, injecting subtlety into a genre that tends to bludgeon its audiences with simplistic sentimentality. In Ephron’s scripts, characters felt like human beings rather than trite clichés. They spoke like real people, or at least, as real as movie dialogue can get. They had some depth, instead of being one-note archetypes.
OK, not every film hit the mark – even the best in the film business make duds from time to time – but when she was good, she was great.
The best, of course, is When Harry Met Sally. Spanning a large chunk of the central characters lives, it harked back to classic romantic movies of the 30s and 40s, adding a dash of Woody Allen at his peak and updating them both for an audience in the home stretch of the 20th century.
Although it is essentially about love and friendship, the film’s themes go deeper than that. It’s about how we grow and change as people, how life takes us by surprise, how we make mistakes and try and learn from them, but end up making new ones.
In my opinion, it’s one of the reasons why the film is almost universally loved, and why its more sentimental moments don’t have you reaching for the sick bag.
The writing has heart and romance, but it also has bite, something that is often forgotten when it comes to romantic comedies. Without any bite, the story gets drowned in slush. Sometimes, films go in the opposite direction – the cynicism is too high, and audiences are left cold.
But it’s easy to lose control of the sap content when you’re trying to tug your audience’s heartstrings. It takes a writer with some chops to pull it off, to strike that perfect balance. When she was on form, Nora Ephron did it effortlessly.
Films such as Bridesmaids are the direct descendents of Ephron’s work, pulling the romantic comedy away from the shallows its been wading in for the past decade. Rather than just imitating what she did for the genre over 20 years ago, they are more following her example, making films with the right balance of bite, heart and subtlety, and above all, through writers that can use their own voice.