Three Great Examples of Nora Ephron’s Sharp Writing Talents

Slate's Culture Blog
June 26 2012 8:49 PM

Nora Ephron’s Sharp Wit

Nora Ephron, 1941-2012

Cindy Ord/Getty Images.

Nora Ephron, the celebrated filmmaker known for her romantic comedies, has passed away at the age of 71. With such films as When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle, Ephron created indelible cinematic moments through lovable characters and witty dialogue, elevating the romantic comedy to new heights for a contemporary audience. Below, Slate highlights three prime examples of Ephron’s ability to handle comedy, romance, and many things in between.


Romantic comedy has long made a trope out of men and women who despise each other bickering until they finally realize they’re in love with one another—see The Philadelphia Story, It Happened One Night—but this film turns such familiar dalliances on its head by keeping the animosity to a minimum and eventually building a realistic friendship between its future lovers. Here, Sally’s disdain for her snarky traveling companion—“Harry, you might not believe this, but I never considered not sleeping with you a sacrifice”—and Harry’s self-assured insight into male-female interactions—“When you take someone to the airport, it’s clearly the beginning of the relationship”—brilliantly showcase Ephron’s knack for expressing the miscommunications that can sometimes arise between men and women. And thanks to the great chemistry between Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan, a charming rapport emerges here, laying the foundation for a memorable cinematic couple.

Ephron plants references to the melodramatic classic An Affair to Remember throughout the plot of Sleepless in Seattle, and finds a way to poke fun at its emotional effects in this scene. Rita Wilson’s description of the plot of the Cary Grant film devolves into a bawling spectacle as Tom Hanks and Victor Garber grow increasingly uncomfortable, only to retort that The Dirty Dozen made them “weep” instead. Ephron’s recognition of the implausibility and utter treacle of both her own film and the one that came before it shows how astute and sharp the writer could be.

Ephron writes a remake of sorts of yet another romantic film, this time The Shop Around the Corner, and Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan play competing bookstore owners. Here, we see Kathleen’s sudden realization that Joe is the big businessman threatening her small enterprise, and a contentious relationship is born. Ephron makes use of the dinner party setting, where food is subtly used to bring out their tense interaction: Joe greedily puts all of the caviar on his plate, much to Kathleen’s chagrin, and she in turn angrily slices at a whole chicken.

Aisha Harris is a Slate staff writer.



Crying Rape

False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.

Scotland Learns That Breaking Up a Country Is Hard to Do

There’s a Way to Keep Ex-Cons Out of Prison That Pays for Itself. Why Don’t More States Use It?

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B

How Will You Carry Around Your Huge New iPhone? Apple Pants!


Theo’s Joint and Vanessa’s Whiskey

No sitcom did the “Very Special Episode” as well as The Cosby Show.


The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

Cliff Huxtable Explains the World: Five Lessons From TV’s Greatest Dad

Why Television Needs a New Cosby Show Right Now

  News & Politics
The World
Sept. 19 2014 12:33 PM The Precarious Predicament of Russia’s Neighbors
Sept. 19 2014 12:09 PM How Accelerators Have Changed Startup Funding
The Vault
Sept. 19 2014 12:08 PM The CIA Used to Have a Commute-by-Canoe Club. One Member’s Memories.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 11:33 AM Planned Parenthood Is About to Make It a Lot Easier to Get Birth Control
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 12:10 PM Watch the Trailer for Big Eyes, a Tim Burton Movie About People With Normal-Sized Eyes
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 12:38 PM Forward, March! Nine leading climate scientists urge you to attend the People’s Climate March.
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 12:13 PM The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola  The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.