I’m a major admirer of writer / director Nora Ephron and also of actress Meryl Streep. So to have the two women team up in a movie about another woman I admire (Julia Child) on a subject that is one of my greatest passions (cooking)...ah, I’m in movie heaven. I’m talking about Julie and Julia, of course.
But this isn’t a movie review...today I want to ask, what makes for magic on screen? In a movie, as in a book, you can have two very similar stories, yet one is mediocre while the other steps up to greatness. What’s the difference? In a romantic comedy, chemistry is key – Ephron’s Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail teamed Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, whom I think made a great match chemistry-wise. I know lots of people adored When Harry met Sally, but for me, witty as the movie was, the Ryan-Crystal chemistry wasn’t as great. In books, chemistry abounds between so many of Georgette Heyer’s Regency protagonists, while Susan Elizabeth Phillips is a mistress of chemistry on the page in contemporary romances.
Another factor in screen magic is that elusive presence, and that’s something Streep has in spades. In movies from Silkwood to Heartburn, from Kramer vs. Kramer to Adaptation, Streep fills a screen yet doesn’t make it “all about her”. Sheer genius.
Lastly, there’s the need for a story that, though it may be about ordinary lives, transcends the trivial and somehow gets to our hearts. This is what I admire about Ephron. She turns even a light comedy into a great story – and you know it’s a great story when you can watch it four, five, six times and it feels fresh every time.
I think that should be the ultimate goal for any romance writer—to write stories that, yes, provide a few hours’ entertainment. But at the same time, they say something about the human condition and the power of love that we never tire of hearing. Anyone got a favorite Ephron and/or Streep movie they’d like to share?