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The Magic of Nora

Updated on March 19, 2015


Nora Ephron knew how to write. This is not a statement of opinion but rather an undisputable fact. Those who are in the know, whether they consider themselves to be fans of her work or not, are incapable of denying that Nora knew how to tell a story; an art that seems to be lost in the world of the modern day entertainment industry. In interviews, Nora said that she “believed in fantasy in the movies” and she captured that essence right down to the tiniest detail.

To dispel any theories up front, this hub is not a biography. There are several of those that can be found online and elsewhere. This article is designed as a sort of beginners guide. If you don’t know anything about Nora’s work but wish to learn, the best place to start is by viewing three of her most famous projects. The following films showcase the best parts of Nora. You can spend your time researching facts about this incredible talent; where she was born, her family history, notable moments in her career, etc. But to fully understand Nora you have to experience her through her work.

When Harry Met Sally

A true classic. Written by Ephron and directed by Rob Reiner, When Harry Met Sally aims to investigate three major topics: the differences between men and women, the social science of how people meet and fall in love, and the all important question, “Can men and women be friends?”

The film follows the various meetings that occur between journalist Sally Albright and political consultant Harry Burns over the course of a ten year period. The pair’s first encounter occurs just after graduation at the University of Chicago. Sally is enlisted by her then good friend, Amanda, to drive Harry, (who is currently seeing Amanda), to New York. From the minute Harry gets into Sally’s car it becomes apparent that these two could not be greater opposites. As the ride progresses, however, Harry and Sally slowly begin to find common ground in the form of discussing another iconic film: Casablanca. This breakthrough leads to a shift in the conversation. Seeing an opportunity arise, Harry makes a pass at Sally. Upon being shot down, Harry reveals the film’s most “controversial” point: “Men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.” Since they can’t be friends for “obvious” reasons, Harry and Sally decide to part ways upon arriving in New York.

Five years later at an airport Harry and Sally find themselves meeting again. Harry makes an attempt to amend his previous statement that men and women can’t be friends but Sally wants nothing to do with him. After arriving at their destination, they part ways once more.

Five years after their airport encounter, Harry and Sally meet yet again. This time, however, the offer of friendship finally sticks. Over the course of the next two years, Harry and Sally learn that, (regardless of whether or not men and women can truly be friends), what matters most is that they’re able to put aside their differences and let love into their hearts.

Sleepless in Seattle

Written and directed by Ephron, Sleepless chronicles the journey of two people looking for love from opposite ends of the country.

Sam Baldwin, (a recently widowed architect looking for a fresh start), decides to move himself and his son from Chicago to Seattle. A year and a half later, Sam is still struggling to get over the loss of his wife, Maggie. Concerned for his father’s well-being, Sam’s son Jonah calls a late night radio show on Christmas Eve. A reluctant Sam is placed on the phone where he begins to tell the host about the relationship he had with his wife. Listening in her car, a newly engaged Annie can’t help but feel drawn to Sam and his story.

For the next few months, Annie can’t help but become obsessed with Sam. Knowing that she’s crazy to even reach out to someone she’s never met let alone attempt to become involved with someone who lives so far away, Annie writes Sam a letter asking that he and his son meet her at the top of the Empire State Building on Valentine’s Day. The chain of events that follows makes even the most cynical of viewers believe that fate really does exist.

You've Got Mail

Written by Nora and her sister, Deliah, You've Got Mail takes the story of the classic film The Shop Around the Corner and thrusts it into the brink of the digital age.

Independent bookstore owner Kathleen Kelly and the head of major book superstore Fox Books, Joe Fox, have been anonymously corresponding via email. The pair, who met in an AOL chartroom, do not share any personal details, and yet, have somehow managed to develop feelings for each other. Deep in the honeymoon phase of their online rendezvous, Kathleen and Joe enter a public war when Fox Books opens up a location directly across the street from Kathleen’s store, slowly but surely driving away business.

Soon after the holidays conclude, Kathleen and Joe agree to meet. Nervous about meeting his internet companion in person, Joe asks his friend to look into the café and see what his mystery date looks like. When it’s revealed that the object of Joe’s internet affections is also his professional arch nemesis the couple’s future seems all but doomed. Not one to be discouraged that easily, Joe decides to begin courting Kathleen in the hopes that she’ll eventually catch on and reciprocate his interest.

Though these films might seem dated, they have lasted this long because they all contain one thing which many of today’s movies do not: Good storytelling. Between greedy studio heads and a desire to make everything in this country cheap and marketable, the storytelling element of filmmaking has all but disappeared from modern day Hollywood. Nora Ephron was smart, talented, and above all, had the ability to make people believe in fate and magic, if only in the context of a film. In order to understand what makes a good film, let only a decent story, you need to discover Nora. The rest should inevitably follow.


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