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In a March 2016 interview in Collider, Jacob Bernstein said that the most challenging aspect of this movie's production was the protracted negotiation with his own father, Carl Bernstein, about his appearance in the film. In the movie itself, Jacob Bernstein also says that his parents' divorce stretched on for years and was a great deal more complicated than most divorces in part because of his father's insistence on negotiating on the content of another movie, the film adaptation of Nora Ephron's roman a clef account of their breakup, Heartburn. See more »
I now believe that what my mother meant was this: When you slip on a banana peel, people laugh at you. But when you tell people you slipped on a banana peel, it's you're a laugh, so you become a hero rather than the victim of the joke. I think that's what she meant. On the other hand, she may merely have meant everything is copy.
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"Most of us live our lives devoid of cinematic moments."
The above quote isn't a line from this documentary, made by the late Nora Eprhon's son Jacob Bernstein, but something that she said about success (you can find it in the IMDb quotes for reference). It can be said from the many, many things in this 90 minute documentary that she had these cinematic moments, and that the title of the movie - a reference to a certain philosophy about using your life for art via Ephron's mother (a woman who, ironically, wrote for Hollywood fluff screenplays that had little personality). At first, I thought this would be a pretty basic Tribute-To look at this writer and filmmaker, but there's a lot more to it and it gains depth the more it goes along.
In fact one can see this as being as much about a son letting go of his mother, and coming to terms with who she was to him and who his father was for a time (he's Carl Bernstein of 'All The President's Men' of course), than it is a basic bio-doc. You do get to learn about where she came from - her literal Hollywood roots - and then kind of starting at the top as a valedictorian, going on to write in the New York Post, Esquire, constant column writing, then from a busted marriage with Bernstein out of the ashes comes Heartburn (also a 1986 movie by Mike Nichols), and then into a filmmaker. But what else is there? A lot, actually, and it's achingly personal material.
If you come to this movie it's a given you've seen something Ephron's been involved with, and she's been involved with some famous movies, many of them romantic comedies (Meg Ryan could basically credit half her career to Ephron between Harry Met Sally and 'Seattle' alone), or maybe even her scripted drama Silkwood or her several books or plays, or that 2009 movie Julia & Julia which is ostensibly about cooking but is really another achingly personal movie for her about love. But the key thing with this is to actually *not* be familiar or even in total admiration of everything she's done (one of the aspects I respected was that her son, among some collaborators of hers, talk about the, well, flops and misfires like Mixed Nuts and Hanging Up, the latter also personal). You don't have to be in love with everything a person's done to admire the work done to reveal the figure's life - it does help, but it's not a requirement - and Bernstein does a terrific job of digging into all the corners of who this woman was.
What was she like as a woman, to other women, to men, as someone who was, to put it kindly by several in the movie, "Tough?" What does it take for a woman to even make it in an industry that, especially when she came up in the 60's and 70's, was dominated by men? There's so much to parse about Nora Ephron that it's fascinating to see what happened during the Bernstein marriage and the fall-out. Seeing any person in a vulnerable position (and yet, as a fair documentarian, Bernstein also gets his father's side... in some part), and because of this it's difficult to leave not only knowing her better as far as the superficial stuff, the humor and wit, but what was in her heart as well.
If that sounds sappy, well, it is. But this is a movie that comes from the heart from a son to a mother, and as it is like that it works. As a documentary it works too, though a little more conventionally as far as tracking the career (except when it does step into the realm of the "Copy" part - i.e. Harry/Sally as Reiner/Herself, or the Hanging Up saga with her own sister as a co-writer). I do wish I got a little more in retrospect about the movies that didn't work, but then it's simple: if it wasn't copy, if it wasn't as personal (i.e. Bewitched is left out), it didn't work as well, or connect as strongly. In other words, Nora Ephron was not necessarily always what people thought of as a typical woman, though she didn't always know what a typical woman was anyway, which informed her life and writing - she just looked and had those 'movie moments.' In short I leave you with her thought on life after death: " Mo
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