Of the many (and oh, there are many) brilliant and hilarious musings that the late, great Nora Ephron spun from her one-of-a-kind wisdom throughout her lifetime, there was one which has remained with me more than any other. The writer/director was on Charlie Rose discussing her latest film, the hit comedy You’ve Got Mail, when the subject turned to her past flops. In referencing her career missteps, Ephon so wisely and eloquently commented, “The truth is, I don’t really think you learn anything from failure. All I really think you learn from failure, honest to God, is that it’s entirely possible you could have another one.” It was such a telling quote which applied to every person and strongly commented on the intoxicating illusion of success and glory and the importance of remaining in tune with reality, which has always stayed with me. It’s that unique, yet practical way of thinking which made Ephron not just a great wordsmith, but, many would say, one of the most intuitive figures of the 20th century.
Co-directed by her son, journalist Jacob Bernstein, and documentarian Nick Hooker, Everything is Copy: Nora Ephron Scripted and Unscripted examines the subject’s life from the oldest of four sisters born to a pair of screenwriter parents, to her work as a journalist in the seventies, to a successful novelist, to an Oscar-nominated screenwriter/director. Holding true to the mantra “everything is copy,” friends, family, and colleagues share personal memories of Ephron as well as their own theories as to why such a confident, public, and opinionated woman should choose to keep the details of the illness which would claim her life a secret.
The portrait of Nora Ephron that Everything is Copy paints goes far beyond the image so many know her to be, namely one of the prime comic female voices in American cinema. Everything is Copy truly shows how revolutionary of a writer Ephron was and how, with her striking views on romance and relationships, as well as the foibles which come with being a woman, she helped redefine both the idea of feminism and the image of femininity. Importance is placed on the fact that Ephron arrived at the right time when journalism was changing and becoming more popular and fashionable. On the flip side, ample time is given to showing the less glowing side of Ephron’s life, namely her divorces and the fact that many critics were disappointed that her work as a director was softer than her early writings. There’s also time given to the fact that Ephron wasn’t always the kindest or softest person, with friends such as Barbara Walters stating that the subject was not above lambasting someone in one of her pieces if it worked with what she was writing. It’s Meg Ryan who so interestingly illustrates this by stating, “Her allegiance to language was stronger than her allegiance to people. It was just too good of a setup.” Above all, Bernstein and Hooker’s film shows how her work transcended the different forms of writing that were out there and how her deeply honest candor was never perceived as anything but fearless and intelligent.
Besides offering up a loving tribute to one of the greatest female writers that ever lived, Everything is Copy’s aim is to dissect the title, which had for years been Ephron’s motto. The concept of “everything is copy” is a simple one; mainly how that everything that happens in your life, big or small, good or bad, is ripe for anecdotal material, even if it doesn’t necessarily happen to you. As Ephon puts it, “When you slip on a banana peel, people laugh at you. But when you tell people you slipped on a banana peel, it’s your laugh, so you become the hero of the joke, rather than the victim.” This idea forever became the essence of her writing and what made her an irreplaceable force full of endless honesty and wit. It’s therefore surprising that Ephron kept the biggest event in her life (her illness from a disease which would later lead to leukemia) a close secret for years until days just before her death. Many different theories are raised, from the likes of Liz Smith saying she was simply “a control freak” to Meryl Streep, who feels that her reluctance to share such news a determined effort to “achieve a private act.”
From a documentary aspect, Bernstein and Hooker do well covering all of the main highs and lows of Ephron’s life, talking to all the right people who knew her and asking the right questions to help those watching get a true sense of who this woman was. Hearing the likes of Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, ex-husband Carl Bernstein, and even her own sisters talk about Ephron with all their personal anecdotes is entertaining and informative enough and provides great insight. The same goes for the instances where actresses such as Reese Witherspoon, Rita Wilson, Ryan, and others are shown reading excerpts from Ephon’s work. However, nothing tops the archival footage in which we hear Ephron herself talk. And as Everything is Copy proves, when it comes to Nora Ephron, nothing ever will.
Everything is Copy is now available on DVD from HBO Home Entertainment.