Review: ‘Everything Is Copy’ (2016) Captures A Legend

Jacob Bernstein's Everything is Copy -- Nora Ephron

Nora Ephron worked with some of the greatest actors and actresses of her generation. She wrote and directed films that are still talked about years later, from 1989’s When Harry Met Sally… to 1998’s You’ve Got Mail. In many ways, it was Nora Ephron who codified the language of the romantic comedy for generations of fans, filmmakers, and stars. She died, sadly, at age 71 in 2012, to the surprise of her many friends who were unaware of her longrunning battle with leukemia.

Nora’s friends and family, particularly her son Jacob, who directed the film, gather here to talk about Nora’s life. But also to celebrate it. Jacob was inspired to make this documentary because, according to an interview with Bobby Finger, “I knew that I wasn’t going to write a book about her that was better than any of the books she wrote about herself,” and he smartly includes a lot of Ephron’s own words. People like Meg Ryan, Gaby Hoffman, and Lena Dunham read excerpts from some of Ephron’s own famous essays, and there’s plenty of archival footage of Ephron interviews in which she gets to show off her wit and her slow softening with age. Sure, there are plenty of interviews with friends and families, some of which are incredibly insightful and heartfelt, but as Jacob realized: Ephron typically said it first and said it best.

At one point, Sony’s Amy Pascal compares Ephron to Dorothy Parker. Parker may not be a familiar name to many, but she should be. Parker was a poet, essayist, screenwriter, and party-animal turned political activist as she got older, notorious for her sharp wit and devil-may-care attitude. It’s a powerful touchpoint for Ephron, and, the movie makes the case, an accurate one. Viewers who only know Ephron from her film work may be surprised to learn that she, for instance, wrote for Esquire, one of the only women contributing to the venerable magazine in the 60s and 70s. She was on their 40th anniversary cover, as were other Esquire alums like Tom Wolfe and Ernest Hemingway. She was a journalist for the New York Post. She was married to Carl Bernstein, one of the journalists who broke Watergate and brought down Nixon. She was an acclaimed novelist. And all this before she ever wrote a single screenplay.

Everything Is Copy is in many ways a bog-standard biographical documentary, full of archival footage and old photographs with talking heads cut between them. It’s the dullest kind of doc. But Everything of Copy has the strength of its subject to carry it. Nora Ephron was a world-class wit who left behind hundreds of thousands of words, a ton of interviews, and her body of feature films, which star some of the world’s most charismatic, charming people. The talking heads carry on with that spirit, many of them remembering her with a smile and a laugh and a loose, casual tone that helps the hagiography go down a little easier. It isn’t as ambitious or formally challenging as something like Stories We Tell, but whenever Ephron speaks, you listen. You don’t listen because of the famous voices reading the work. You listen because Ephron has that special something that every writer wants, that definitive, engaging, wonderful voice.

Everything Is Copy is available now on HBO and HBO Go. It was directed by Jacob Bernstein.

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