- The Washington Times - Friday, August 7, 2009

Nora Ephron has had three Oscar nominations for best original screenplay. One was for one of the best romantic comedies ever made — “When Harry Met Sally.” She’s also a director who has made box-office hits such as “Sleepless in Seattle” — for which she also got a screenwriting nod — and “You’ve Got Mail.” Sure, not every film she’s made has been a big success — “Hanging Up” and “Bewitched” come to mind. But she certainly has a good track record.

Yet Ms. Ephron still has trouble getting movies made — even one about the most famous chef in American history.

“Julie & Julia,” which opens today, is based on two memoirs and stars Meryl Streep as Julia Child, the woman who brought French cooking to America, and Amy Adams as Julie Powell, a modern Manhattan blogger who is inspired by her.

Ms. Ephron, looking younger than her 68 years on a recent visit to Washington, says she got her movie produced only because of the success of Miss Streep’s “Mamma Mia!” and “The Devil Wears Prada.”

“There is not an actor or actress I think in history that was more powerful at the box office at the age of 60 than they had ever been in their lives,” she marvels.

“She has had this insane career where she’s always worked and she’s never been a person who could get a movie made, and now suddenly, she just turned 60, [and] she can get a movie made,” Ms. Ephron says of the star. “It’s because she’s been in two monster hits. She wouldn’t be any less good as Julia Child if she had not been in those two movies, but I got this movie made because she wanted to be in it.”

It’s tough, Ms. Ephron explains, to get any kind of movie made that’s dialogue-driven and geared toward adults, be they men or women.

“People in the movie business are looking for the safe thing, and the safe thing is to make a movie for teenage boys,” Ms. Ephron says. “It’s a difficult business, and it is worse than ever now that people are making fewer movies and everybody is looking for insurance. — When you make a movie that’s dialogue-driven, you don’t have the kind of insurance of a movie that’s a cartoon and that’s about to be a video game. I just don’t see the ‘Julie & Julia’ video game. Or ‘Son of Julie & Julia.’”

It’s a good thing Miss Streep was interested — Ms. Ephron has rarely wanted to make a project as badly as she did this one. When she was offered the film, it had a different screenwriter attached, but she was overjoyed when the writer got a television series and had to bow out.

“I was so obviously the person who had to write this movie,” she says. “I don’t feel that way about almost anything. If the words ‘This Has My Name On It’ were ever uttered on behalf of anything, it was this movie and me.”

Readers of Ms. Ephron’s last best-selling book, “I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman,” know that as a young woman fresh out of college and newly installed in Manhattan, she came of age with Mrs. Child.

“I was one of thousands and thousands of people who bought ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking’ as a passage to adulthood,” she recalls. “Everyone I knew cooked from it. Everyone I knew either cooked intelligently from it, as I did, of course, or idiotically and cooked things like Veal Prince Orloff, which is one of the most time-consuming, pointless things you could ever cook. But we all learned to cook with her.”

Ms. Ephron rhapsodizes about those days in the 1960s. “It was an era of insane cooking. Everyone cooked. Nobody ordered in.” It seems hard to believe now, especially of New Yorkers, none of whom seems to cook these days.

“The salad bar had not been invented; you have to understand this,” she says. “I worked as a journalist, and I would stop at the market on my way home and buy whatever I was going to make for dinner that night. It was always from Julia or Michael Field or from ‘The New York Times Cookbook,’ the first one that Craig Claiborne did. I would sit down with basically a dinner for four people and eat it all myself.”

Food plays a big part in “Julie & Julia,” of course — there are gorgeous shots of food in various stages of preparation throughout the film. That’s not what it’s really about, though. The parallel narratives highlight the fact that both women were creative types who relied on loving relationships with supportive husbands.

“I didn’t make that up, thank God, because if I had, I’m sure someone would be accusing me of making up men so fabulous, they couldn’t possibly exist,” Ms. Ephron says with a laugh.

“The fun to me was that nobody makes movies about marriage,” says the woman who has made some of the best-known romantic comedies. “You see movies about people who fall in love, and you see movies about people who fall out of love. You don’t see what many people have, which is the kind of terrific romance of something that is fundamentally plotless, thankfully plotless, where the most dramatic words of the day are ‘What’s for dinner?’”

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