There’s an awful lot of mawkish dross spouted following the death of someone in the public eye. There are choruses – particularly on Facebook and Twitter – about how much individual X is going to miss Celebrity Y – someone they’d never met, and had no relationship with. It’s weird and, frankly, a bit gross.
But the response to the death of Nora Ephron last night seems to have elicited a completely different outpouring. There wasn’t a nauseating gush of overemotional wallowing and proxy grief, but a feeling of genuine sadness that a woman of such enormous talent won’t ever give the world any more of her utter brilliance (I’m not going to draw snobbish conclusions about the type of people who admire writers in comparison to the general populace: I’ll leave you to make them by yourself).
My immediate thought, standing in a damp towel in the bedroom this morning as The Writer shouted the news through after hearing it on the radio in the kitchen, was precisely that: that the world has lost someone whose work made it a better place.
I know an awful lot of people would probably take one look at the cover of When Harry Met Sally and decide that it’s low-grade, chick-flick, rom-com nonsense; the same about Sleepless in Seattle, or even You’ve Got Mail. They’d be wrong – so, so wrong.
I’m no stranger to the run-of-the-mill rom-com: TW and I saw Friends with Benefits on one of our early dates (although I can take no credit for that – it was his choice. What can I say? He’s a great cook, but has a real penchant for a crappy film), and I absolutely bawled my way through A Five Year Engagement on Saturday night (I blame the PMT).
But Ephron’s films aren’t run-of-the-mill rom-com. They might not be considered high screen art – a Citizen Kane or a Maltese Falcon (although Harry is – rightly – often up there in the lists of “best films of all time”) but they’re full of something that so many films aren’t. Even leaving aside the fabulous, fabulous writing, Ephron’s films are packed with utterly universal truths.
I first watched When Harry Met Sally at university, with Best Mate and her little brother, who had come to the flat – as he so often did – to scrounge a cup of tea, followed by some supper and some advice on his latest girlproblem. Every beautifully crafted sentence of the film resonated with me like a bell: most women at one time or another have faked it, or Thin. Pretty. Big tits. Your basic nightmare.
I remember finishing Harry and launching into an involved discussion with the others about whether men and women could ever be friends. We decided, a few extenuating circumstances aside, that they probably couldn’t (I don’t know that I necessarily believe that now, but at the time, in my early university career with the dalliances that entailed, I was a fully-paid up subscriber to the theory).
Ephron’s writing – not just her films – was littered with that same real-world wisdom:
The Wonderbra is not a step forward for women. Nothing that hurts that much is a step forward for women.
Don't be frightened: you can always change your mind. I know: I've had four careers and three husbands.
I won’t miss Nora Ephron the woman – I wasn’t lucky enough to know her in life. But god, I’ll miss her wit, her talent, her brilliance. Anyone who can write a 3,500 word essay and title it “A Few Words About Breasts” is someone the world is worse off without.