No One Makes a Non-Christmas Christmas Film Quite Like Nora Ephron
Nostalgia and Christmas go together like turkey and stuffing, or Santa and reindeer. Or Christmas trees and baubles… Ok, you get the idea. We all love to reminisce about the past and Christmas traditions lend themselves perfectly to that end. As December approaches, the days grow shorter and the weather gets colder. It’s the perfect time to hunker down, get cosy and pop on a Christmas film or two.
But what if our favourite Christmas films aren’t technically even Christmas films at all?
Nora Ephron is the queen of making festive films which only have a scene or two set during the most wonderful time of the year and yet have become quintessential Christmassy watches. The Nora Ephron movies which spring to mind are, what is often referred to as, the Meg Ryan trilogy: namely When Harry Met Sally; Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail.
So, what gives these classic romantic comedies the audacity to make such a bold declaration? I would reason that it simply comes down to a feeling – a feeling which is explored using a combination of themes. I’m going share my thoughts on what these themes are and how Ephron uses them to create that sense of seasonal flavour.
As I’ve already mentioned, nostalgia makes up a big portion of that Christmassy feeling. Many among us will have uttered the words, “They don’t make films like they used to’ – and it’s true as, sadly, Ephron is no longer around to make them. Ephron mastered the skill of creating art on the silver screen that exudes warmth and comfort. The Christmas that’s portrayed is how we feel Christmas should be and what we hope ours will be like year after year.
Romance and destiny
In When Harry Met Sally, destiny works its magic when Harry and Sally have two chance encounters several years apart, after their initial acquaintance. Their relationship evolves from disdain, moving through curiosity, friendship until eventually developing into romantic love. Although the two kisses they share don’t happen on Christmas day itself, they take place on New Year’s Eve, a year apart, so there’s a definite festive feel.
As Annie drives to the home of her parents-in-law to be in Sleepless in Seattle, she listens to the radio. She hears the story of Sam and his loneliness after losing his wife to cancer and is touched by the sadness of it.
After announcing her engagement, a conversation with her future mother-in-law about how she was destined to meet her husband brings Annie’s feelings for her fiancé, Walter, into question. And so begins Annie’s quest to find Sam and discover if their fate is to meet and fall in love.
The story of You’ve Got Mail, based on the 1940s film – The Shop Around the Corner, isn’t without its problems. The book mega-store forces the independent bookshop to close yet an unlikely relationship between the two rival owners blossoms. But let’s ignore that for now and immerse ourselves in the romance. After meeting in person, Joe and Kathleen don’t even realise that they already know each other, albeit by the names Shopgirl and NY152 – their AOL email account aliases. Fate had a hand in bringing these two people together, despite the challenging obstacles that were put in their way. But as they say, love conquers all.
Loneliness and Loss
The two scenes showing Sally dragging home a Christmas tree perfectly illustrate the difference in how she is feeling during the festive season, two years apart. In the first scene, she is happy and smiling as she chooses a tree with her new-found friend, Harry.
But the following year, after her and Harry have crossed the friendship boundary into something more intimate, and ultimately destroyed their relationship, dragging the tree is a lonely, onerous task. It almost seems to mock her misery. Other scenes depict Harry and Sally as being unmoored and unable to occupy themselves. Their lives were so intertwined with one another’s, they feel lost and lonely without each other.
The backdrop to Sleepless in Seattle is loneliness and loss. Sam is lonely after the death of his wife and mother of his child, and Annie is lonely in her relationship with Walter as she can’t shake the feeling that perhaps they aren’t meant to be together. Christmas only intensifies this sense as it should be a time of fun and happiness.
It’s around Christmas time when the future of Kathleen’s shop starts to look more uncertain in You’ve Got Mail. This is also when Shopgirl and NY152 arrange to meet for a drink. Upon his arrival, Joe spots Kathleen and realises who he’s been emailing all this time. Kathleen looks a lonely figure as she sits waiting for a potential love interest – who in reality is her adversary.
These three films are romantic comedies at their best. The characters grow and change along with the seasons and, despite not being a central part of the story, Christmas subtlety influences the mood and tone of each of these movies.
So, whether we agree or agree to disagree, let’s all just sit back and relax as we put our cynicism aside and let the magic take over.