Nora Ephron: Wisdom, With Wit On the Side

 "I'll have what she's having.""The whole purpose of places like Starbucks is for people with no decision-making ability whatsoever to make six decisions just to buy one cup of coffee. Short, tall, light, dark, caf, decaf, low-fat, non-fat, etc. So people who don't know...who on earth they are, can, for only $2.95, get not just a cup of coffee but an absolutely defining sense of self: Tall! Decaf! Cappuccino!""The Godfather is the I Ching. The Godfather is the sum of all wisdom. The Godfather is the answer to any question. What should I pack for my summer vacation? 'Leave the gun, take the cannoli.' What day of the week is it? 'Maunday, Tuesday, Thursday, Wednesday.'""All I'm saying is that somewhere out there is the man you are supposed to marry. And if you don't get him first, somebody else will, and you'll have to spend the rest of your life knowing that somebody else is married to your husband."_____________________________________________________________________________________The above is just a small sampling of the wit of Nora Ephron, whose death from leukemia just over a month ago robbed Hollywood of its cleverest female writer in a generation. Many of her films, including When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless In Seattle, and You've Got Mail, have entered the canon of romantic comedy classics, and her more recent films, such as Julie and Julia, garnered popular and critical acclaim.However, Ephron's true talent lay not in her memorable witticisms, but in her ability to fuse a uniquely modern sensibility with timeless truths about men and women and how they communicate. Nineteen-ninety-eight's You've Got Mail exemplifies this ability best. Starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, the film follows a couple who are simultaneously anonymous email pals and business rivals who hate each other. Online, they communicate with candor and intimacy, but in person they trade insults and cutting words. Apart from being an incredibly cute and entertaining love story, the movie is also a meditation on the changing face of human interaction. Characters lament the sudden and dramatic shifts in communication, resulting from the rise of the Internet and email in the late '90's. They make gloomy obervations such as "Well, as far as I'm concerned, the Internet is just another way of being rejected by women," or "Listen to this -- the entire workforce of the state of Virginia had to have solitaire removed from their computers -- because they hadn't done any work in six weeks.… You know what this is, you know what we're seeing here? We're seeing the end of Western civilization as we know it."Of course, fifteen years later, these dire declarations seem rather silly. In a world where most communication is confined to 140 character status updates, tweets, and texts, exchanging long, poignant emails now marks some degree of commitment. Contrary to the opinion of many who wring their hands and bewail the state of communication, the question is not "What will happen to human intimacy in our too-technologied world?"--the human need for relationships and community shows no sign of waning anytime soon. Rather, the question is "What next?"--how will humans adapt and learn to satisfy that deep, enduring need for communication that a Christian would argue a triune God implanted in our makeup?Ephron was keenly aware of this tension between the permanent need for love and companionship and the evolving ways we learn to find them. Her quip to Tom Hanks in 1998 that they had "to start shooting in the next five minutes, before AOL disappears and something else takes the place of email" reveals her knowledge of the transience of technology, but her overall concept demonstrates an understanding of the true constants in communication. Unbeknownst to many, the idea behind the film is not original--it is an update of an earlier Jimmy Stuart film  The Shop Around the Corner. In this incarnation, Jimmy Stuart and Margaret Sullavan are anonymous pen pals who detest one another in real life. And the story goes back even further, originating in a stage play with the same plot by Hungarian playwright Miklós László. That makes the story 75 years old, and its perennial popularity--it also inspired two musicals, one starring Judy Garland and the other Barbara Cook--indicates that humanity will always be fascinated by its own changing expression of its unchanging need for love and romance. What remains to be seen is how we will learn to love one another with equal passion and commitment through the mediums of Facebook, Twitter, and text, and who will fill the shoes of Nora Ephron and make us laugh at our hopelessly human attempts to do so with equal wit and heart.Nancy Ritter[Image: AP Photo

FeaturedMark Rodgers