The Films of Nora Ephron
This Is My Life
Sleepless in Seattle (March 27/18)
Directed by Nora Ephron, Sleepless in Seattle follows Meg Ryan's Annie Reed as she finds herself falling for a man (Tom Hanks' Sam Baldwin) she's never met after hearing him speak of his grief on a national radio show - with the storyline detailing the separate exploits of the two figures as she prepares for her marriage to Bill Pullman's boring Walter and he finally begins dating again. Filmmaker Ephron, working from a script written with David S. Ward and Jeff Arch, delivers a slow-moving narrative that keeps Hanks and Ryan's respective characters apart for the majority of the movie's runtime, and there's little doubt that the film, as a result, suffers from a somewhat erratic atmosphere that's allayed by the two stars' undeniably charismatic work - although, by that same token, it's clear that Sleepless in Seattle does suffer from a dearth of wholeheartedly memorable sequences. (There are, admittedly, a small handful of exceptions to this, including a high-water-mark interlude detailing Sam's conversation on the aforementioned radio show.) Despite its somewhat uninvolving atmosphere, however, the picture remains fairly watchable throughout and it's worth noting, certainly, that it generally succeeds more as a character study than as a full-fledged romance (eg Sam's ongoing efforts at moving on with his life are quite stirring and emotionally resonant) - which ultimately ensures that the climactic coupling isn't quite able to pack the heartwarming punch Ephron has surely intended. The end result is a decent drama that never entirely lives up to its place as a classic romcom, with the typically stellar work from both Hanks and Ryan often buoying the proceedings through its more overtly ineffective stretches.
You've Got Mail
Bewitched (June 25/05)
While it's not quite as bad as last summer's The Stepford Wives, Bewitched is nevertheless a fairly mediocre little comedy that proves that Nicole Kidman should probably stay away from the genre. Kidman plays Isabel Bigelow, a ditzy witch who - at the film's outset - is determined to put a stop to her black magic ways and live a life of normalcy. Her short-lived search for a job comes to an end when movie star Jack Wyatt (Will Ferrell) invites her to test for a starring role in an update of the '60s sitcom Bewitched. She gets the role, but Jack hogs the spotlight - forcing Isabel to embark upon a campaign of humiliation (resulting in the film's only funny sequence, in which Isabel messes with Jack's delivery during a scene). Bewitched starts out well enough - with its look behind the scenes of the fake show, it's actually pretty interesting - but somewhere around the halfway point, the film goes completely off the rails. It's at that point that the film becomes something entirely different, as co-writer and director Nora Ephron focuses more on Isabel and her mischievous ways (ie the hex she puts on Jack, her ability to turn back time, etc). There's just not enough momentum to carry the film through to the end, despite the best efforts of a very capable cast (in addition to Kidman and Ferrell, the movie features appearances from Michael Caine, David Alan Grier, and Jason Schwartzman). And by the time Steve Carell pops up in a cameo as Uncle Arthur, it's clear that Ephron (along with writers Adam McKay and Delia Ephron) just didn't have enough material for a full-length feature.
Julie & Julia
A typically slick Nora Ephron vehicle, Julie & Julia tells the concurrent stories of blogger Julie Powell (Amy Adams) and famed chef Julia Child (Meryl Streep) - as writer/director Ephron details the latter's efforts at establishing herself as a professional chef during the 1940s and also the former's attempts at cooking the latter's various recipes decades later. Though the transitions between the timelines is never quite as seamless as one might've liked, Ephron does an effective job of initially drawing the viewer into the proceedings by establishing (and emphasizing) an almost uniformly likeable collection of characters - with Adams' and Streep's compelling work matched by a top-notch supporting cast that includes Chris Messina, Mary Lynn Rajskub, and Stanley Tucci. It's subsequently rather easy to overlook Ephron's reliance on overtly cute directorial choices (ie Talking Heads' "Psycho Killer" accompanies Julie's efforts at killing a lobster), although there does reach a point at which the relentlessly bland atmosphere becomes increasingly difficult to stomach. Even Streep inevitably falls victim to Ephron's one-note modus operandi, as the actress' take on Child - so entertaining and engaging at the outset - has been infused with progressively cartoonish attributes that slowly-but-surely drain the character of its authenticity. There's a distinct feeling of repetitiveness and stagnancy that comes to define the majority of Julie & Julia's bloated midsection, thus ensuring that the viewer has lost interest in the central characters' various endeavors long before the admittedly uplifting finale rolls around. The final result is a sporadically watchable piece of work that's about on the same level as Ephron's underwhelming last two movies (2000's Lucky Numbers and 2005's Bewitched), which is a shame, really, given the caliber of the cast and the promising nature of the film's set-up.