Nora Ephron had a bad marriage to Carl Bernstein the Watergate journalist and Washington pants-man and out of it wrote Heartburn, the first novel with recipes in it, and her most enduring masterpiece, Julie/Julia, was about cooking too. The word ‘romcom’ erupted out of the success of When Harry Met Sally and the great Australian auteur Richard Curtis owed a lot of the mingled poignance and pratfalling of Love, Actually and Four Weddings to the path she trod before him; and so did Sex In The City.
She was the first female director to show you can tell it all, and not lose the admiration of your gender. The orgasm-feigning sequence in WHMS is proof of that; and Julia Child grieving when her sister has a baby when she cannot. All the colours and sadnesses of women are on her palette; and always, always, redeeming, purging laughter too. I suspect I learned more about women from Julie/Julia than from any other recent film: the obsessive need to fulfil a chosen task, the love of ingredients, the hero-worship of an unseen mentor she dares not strive to meet; the ache for task that comes from childlessness; the sorrows of being tall.
This is a tremendous loss. Though she made few films, there are not that many by Woody Allen that are up to her standard of completion, roundedness, punchline, joy in living: Annie Hall, Vicki Cristina Barcelona, Manhattan and Midnight In Paris and the list is at an end. Ephron has left us with five great perfect films which, like those of Preston Sturges, and those of Curtis and Woody, and Wyler’s Roman Holiday, remind us that Shakespearean levels of love and saddening laughter have been available, abundantly and generously and poignantly, in our time.