Nora Ephron

Bewitched (2005)

Bewitched (2005)

(On Cable TV, August 2016) For a television show adaptation that could have coasted on simply reprising the basic elements of the original, there is a whole lot more postmodernism to Bewitched than necessary … and it does help make the movie better than it should have been. Less-annoying-than-usual Will Ferrell stars as an arrogant high-profile comic actor in desperate need of a hit, accepting a lead role on a TV show based on the old Bewitched TV show. So far so good, except that the show also ends up selecting an unknown woman (Nicole Kidman) as the co-lead … unaware that she’s a witch trying to go straight. Numerous hijinks ensue, helped along by the multiple levels of fiction and wizardry. Written and directed by Nora Ephron, Bewitched does have a gentle comic quality heightened by it meta-fictional nature. Ferrell is more or less up to his own standards, but Kidman is effortlessly charming as a good witch, with Michael Caine as her disapproving father. Shirley MacLaine also shows up as a matriarch with secrets, plus Steven Colbert in an actual character role. The film itself isn’t that great, but it’s decently entertaining for what it is, and it would have been far less interesting had it not nudged, even gently, in postmodernism. As far as adapting old TV shows are concerned, I’ve seen worse.

Julie & Julia (2009)

Julie & Julia (2009)

(In-flight, November 2009) Nora Ephron’s films are generally amiable and unobjectionable, but after a short absence from the big-screen, it’s good to see her move slightly-away from romantic comedies to tackle a film about cooking, blogging and female empowerment.  The twin true stories of Julia Child (who, in the fifties, popularized French cuisine in America) and Julie Powell (who, nearly fifty years later, took on the project to cook her way through Child’s first book in a year and blog about the experience), Julie & Julia is perhaps most enjoyable as the journey of two foodies.  It’s practically impossible to sit through the film and not be shamed into becoming a better cook.  Food remains the film’s love interest even as various romantic subplots are weaved in the narrative.  The film’s biggest problem is that its two true stories don’t necessarily intersect with grace (although there are a few nice transitions) and that the conclusion feels a bit flat: There are no big dramatic finales built into the true events that inspired Julie & Julia, and some of the most intriguing elements of the story (such as Child’s lack of affection for Julie’s blog) are not necessarily explored.  More happily, it’s striking that the best depiction of a blogger so far in mainstream American cinema (what motivates them, the challenges they face, the thrills of being read) has been in a fluffy food romance.  Who would have thought?  Otherwise, there’s little to dislike in Julie & Julia: maybe a sense of material not being fully exploited, but the funny moments, another great performance by Meryl Streep and food-friendly atmosphere usually compensate for those.