An appreciation: From "Heartburn" to "Julie & Julia," her true genius was for food
"Julie & Julia" provides a fitting coda to Nora Ephron's career.
The romantic comedy about the intersecting lives of a New York City food blogger and Julia Child seemed a charming trifle when it hit theaters in 2009 — one that was much praised for star Meryl Streep's uncanny channeling of the legendary cook who brought French cuisine to the masses, but one that quickly faded from memory.
In retrospect, however, it is the Ephron picture that most expertly stirs together her twin passions for the strong-willed romantic comedy heroines of the 1940s and '30s (imagine the roles she'd have written for Carole Lombard!) and her unapologetic appreciation of a really great meal.
Has there ever been another film in which recipes play such a key role? Indeed, the camera glides across filet of soul or artichokes with hollandaise with a lustful appreciation that would shame Food Network.
Ephron died Tuesday at age 71, but the comic genius behind "You've Got Mail" and "Sleepless in Seattle" should not just be praised for her sparkling dialogue. She should be remembered for making it OK to eat.
As the Huffington Post points out, food and its pleasures form the spine of many of Ephron's famous scenes, most memorably perhaps in "When Harry Met Sally" when Meg Ryan mimes an orgasm in Katz's Deli.
"I'll have what she's having," another diner quips.
Likewise, "Heartburn," a roman à clef about Ephron's failed marriage to journalist Carl Bernstein, overflows with food talk and preparation in both its book and movie incarnations.
Recipes are interspersed throughout the novel, and the Ephron character is, shock of shocks, a food writer.
That same love of cooking made the transition to the silver screen. In the movie adaptation, Streep and Jack Nicholson first realize they're in love after sharing late night bowls of spaghetti carbonara in bed.
And in the unforgettable scene where Streep finally decides to leave the philandering Nicholson, she smashes a homemade key lime pie in his face. In real life, it may have been a bottle of wine that Ephron poured over the womanizing Bernstein's head in the kitchen of the Washington Post's king and queen Sally Quinn and Ben Bradlee, but given the writer's "foodie" passions, a little dramatic license is appropriate.
In an era of diet obsessed stars and tabloid covers that loudly decry any starlet that dares to pack on an aberrant pound, Ephron's love of eating was refreshing.
Some of her films are classics, like "When Harry Met Sally" and "Silkwood"; others, duds, such as "Mixed Nuts" and "Bewitched." But her advocacy of the edible may have been her most radical contribution to popular culture.
"You can never have too much butter — that is my belief. If I have a religion, that's it," Ephron said while promoting "Julie and Julia."
Words to live by.