Monday, June 26, 2023

Movie Quote of the Day (‘Sleepless in Seattle,' on ‘Days When People Knew How To Be in Love’)

Annie Reed [played by Meg Ryan] [watching "An Affair to Remember"]: “Now those were the days when people knew how to be in love.”

Becky [played by Rosie O'Donnell]: “You're a basket case.”

Annie: “They knew it! Time, distance... nothing could separate them because they knew. It was right, it was real, it was...”

Becky: “A movie! That's your problem. You don't want to be in love, you want to be in love in a movie.”— Sleepless in Seattle (1993), screenplay by Nora Ephron, David S. Ward, and Jeff Arch, directed by Nora Ephron

Thirty years ago this week, Sleepless in Seattle premiered, and promptly became a hit.

At the time, I enjoyed the film without being ecstatic about it. Maybe what dimmed my enthusiasm slightly was that it felt as much about falling in love with movies as it did falling in love with a person—not just this scene’s homage to Nora Ephron’s obvious inspiration, An Affair to Remember, but also to its counterpart, the “male weepie”—most obviously, The Dirty Dozen.

Ephron paid similar homage to another classic romantic comedy, the James Stewart-Margaret Sullavan Christmas classic The Shop Around the Corner, with You’ve Got Mail. Again, I felt that, for all Ephron’s wit, her particular spin did not improve on the original.

Maybe the problem was that I had previously encountered Ephron in a different guise, as a masterful essayist whose contributions to Esquire I could never get enough of—an original, biting voice whose departure for Hollywood I felt was a big mistake.

I’m glad that Ephron found enduring love in the end with Nick Pileggi (another excellent journalist who decamped to Tinseltown). But her first love—and really, the one that sustained her through all—was the movies—just what you’d expect from the daughter of screenwriters Henry and Phoebe Ephron. (The daughter in their film Take Her, She’s Mine was based on Nora.)

Since Ephron’s death 11 years ago, I have come to feel differently about her work. I still wish that her films were more original, and I still beg to differ with the subtitle of Erin Carlson’s I'll Have What She's Having: “How Nora Ephron's Three Iconic Films Saved the Romantic Comedy.”

But with time, I can better appreciate how much of a struggle it was for her or any woman to get anything close to a unique vision of a film made in the face of unimaginative, sexist movie executives.

I can better value the sprightly voice of her screenplays and the primary value they championed: wit as a life preserver for those facing loneliness, fear, and tragedy.

I can better see the void her passing left in a Hollywood increasingly consumed by budget-busting, CGI-crazy sequels.

In fact, I would say, Sleepless in Seattle now feels timeless, capable of being appreciated by multiple generations.

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