In the conversation we’ll have
Writer/director Nora Ephron’s recent death gave me a reason to crash on my sofa for an entire day and revisit some of her movies: “When Harry Met Sally,” “Heartburn” and “Julie and Julia.”
I’m a reluctant romantic comedy junkie, and Nora was Queen of the rom com. That genre of films has produced some of the most woman-hating, retrograde crap ever seen on film. There will be lip-syncing to old R & B songs. There will be dieting montages and face masks and quirky, man-hating best friends. There will be Meg Ryan—bubbly as a bad case of stomach acid. I know exactly what I’m in for when I sit down to watch one of these movies.
I shouldn’t like them, but I do. I know Ephron is giving us the hard sell on “heteronormativity,” but I’m willing to be sold because everything is about the dialogue—the verbal dance between lucky men and smart women.
Her world isn’t about love at first sight. It takes Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal hundreds of late night phone calls to fall in love with each other. In “Sleepless in Seattle,” it’s Tom Hank’s voice on a radio show that causes Ryan to have an existential meltdown and raid all of her frequent flyer miles.
This is what I like about Ephron’s films. Yes, girl meets boy and the predictable things happen. But girl also talks boy up for a year, has a misunderstanding with boy, processes with boy, then gets boy. There is always a happy couple ending, but the good bits of the movie are the verbal foreplay. These are not characters that hold anything back, and they’ve got a lot to say.
I get that. I’ve never been able to shut my trap, and it’s cost me a lot. On the up side, I’m a damn fine public speaker. On the downside, I don’t know when to shut the f*ck up. I’ve learned a lot through friends, who have no trouble telling when I need to be a little less communicative. Bosses have pointed out that I probably should have kept that to myself. Hell, this blog is an exercise in too much information. So, yeah, I get it.
My top 10 most romantic moments all involved conversations. None of them involved roses or soft jazz or chiffon. I don’t really remember much about them except the fact that we talked about David Lynch movies or “The Smiths” or old “Degrassi Jr. High” reruns. They were those moments when I felt like I discovered someone from my tribe—quite simply, a kindred. No violins, J. Crew sweater sets, or Eiffel Tower required.
Then there are the conversations you remember because they cause pain and disappointment, where that kindred is now a stranger to you. You can throw a sunset and a bottle of Richmond’s finest beer on a conversation like that and you will still have a miserable moment that no amount of rom com magic can overcome.
I proved this recently. A park at sunset. A cool breeze. A lake complete with lit fountain. A picnic. Said beer. I had decided to take my very stressed out boyfriend and his dog for a picnic. The universe had been administering him a pretty severe ass kicking for the last month or so. I’d been in the same position. We were both pissed off and raw. We were both way beyond cheese plates and geese.
Yet, I tried. Perhaps it was too much Meg Ryan, but for some reason I believed that we would sit side by side, the scene inspiring an intimate moment. We would drown out our fears about money and career and family. The fact that his power got cut off that day would be but a small pebble in our terrifically happy coupledom. My on and off again struggle with depression—merely a blip on the soft focus screen.
Not so much. We did remark on the beauty of the lake. After that, we got into a disagreement about almost everything. It wasn’t a fight but a meeting of the minds. We checked in with each other, admitted that we both felt like 30 miles of bad road and didn’t know how to solve it. I said I knew he couldn’t solve me, that I wasn’t a problem. That I am very good at taking care of myself. He said the same. We offered to help each other when and how we could. We acknowledged that having a partner is fantastic, but we still have our individual shit to deal with. We just have the added advantage of taking it out on each other.
He said he’d try not to do that anymore. I said the same. His 12-pound dog, Buttons, tried to attack a drooling Rottweiler. We laughed. That was our romantic comedy moment at sunset in the park. Depressed, flat broke, a bit cranky, but willing to talk openly about it. I’ve been in very few relationships where this kind of honest exchange was possible. To be able to really talk to someone is better than a bottle of Moet all to myself. Actually…let me think about that one.
So Nora, with her loving, yogini spirit is gone. It’s some other woman’s turn to pick up a pen and a camera and give us films to hate and love and watch over and over and memorize and argue about. Ephron would love that we’re arguing, actually. As long as we are saying something, the sunset can do whatever it wants.
Read more on Nora Ephron here.
Editor: Brianna Bemel
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