×

Film Review: ‘Everything Is Copy’

Portrait of Nora Ephron by her son mirrors the force of nature's shrewd recognition that honesty, whether sweet or scathing, always goes down better with a dose of humor.

With:
Nora Ephron, Mike Nichols, Tom Hanks, Delia Ephron, David Remnick, Gay Talese, Steven Spielberg, Meryl Streep (English dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2831414/

Both as warm and as no-holds-barred blunt as its subject, “Everything Is Copy” proves a stirring portrait of Nora Ephron by her son, writer-director Jacob Bernstein. Ephron passed away in 2012 at the age of 71 from leukemia, a fatal disease whose manifestation she kept secret from all but her closest confidants. That deliberate silence struck many, upon her death, as not only shocking, but something of a betrayal, given that Ephron had previously operated by her own mother’s motto that everything in life was fair-game fodder for her work. Whether Ephron truly believed that creed is the investigative through-line of Bernstein’s doc (which, following its New York Film Festival premiere, is slated for HBO in March 2016), and helps turn it not only a loving biography of a titanic talent, but a look at the way in which artists strike a balance between the personal and the private.

Like his mother a journalist by trade, Bernstein opens his film with an overly composed shot of himself typing at his laptop – a moment whose awkwardness is only felt again, briefly, in sequences in which actors such as Lena Dunham, Reese Witherspoon and Rita Wilson read snippets of Ephron’s columns about desire, sex and aging directly to the camera in grainy black-and-white. Thankfully, those inelegant interludes don’t define the rest of “Everything Is Copy’s” aesthetic, which is otherwise marked by a seamless blend of home movies, interviews with Ephron’s relatives and adoring friends and colleagues, and video and audio clips of Ephron herself — a famed newspaper writer turned columnist turned novelist turned screenwriter turned playwright turned filmmaker — as she expounds on her writing, her movies and her I’m-always-right opinions.

In anecdote after anecdote from the likes of Barry Diller (an old high-school friend), Meg Ryan, Meryl Streep, Amy Pascal, Gay Talese, Rob Reiner, the late Mike Nichols and Tom Hanks, the Ephron that emerges is a true-blue New Yorker who rose from the depths of Newsweek (where she was a “mail girl”) to become a prestigious Esquire and The New Yorker essayist and, later, a cinematic romantic-comedy sensation courtesy of her magnetic mixture of arrogance, tough-talking forthrightness and keen insight into male-female dynamics. It’s the last of those that turned her a national celebrity when, after her bitter divorce and custody dispute with second husband Carl Bernstein, she wrote “Heartburn,” a thinly veiled fictional account of their union’s implosion that in 1986 was adapted for the screen by Nichols, Streep and Jack Nicholson.

In detailing his mother’s ascension to national stardom, as well as her eventual happy third marriage to” Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family” author Nicholas Pileggi, Bernstein wisely keeps his focus on his mom’s outsized personality, and specifically, on her deft ability to cut someone down with a caustic witticism one moment, and then hopelessly charm them with motherly advice the next. In examining Ephron’s upbringing in Hollywood with transplanted-New Yorker parents who found some screenwriting fame before succumbing to alcoholism, “Everything Is Copy” lays a sturdy foundation for its depiction of Ephron’s career-long use of her own ups and downs as fertile writing material. That was apparent no matter which mode she was working in, be it a 1972 Esquire column that addressed her insecurities about her small breast size, or the famous diner-orgasm scene in 1989’s “When Harry Met Sally,” or in 2000’s “Hanging Up,” which was written — and, at the time, caused a giant riff between — Ephron and her sister Delia.

Feisty and funny in equal measure, Ephron is presented as a feminist icon less because of any one particular cultural-political stand than because of her unashamed willingness to frankly discuss women’s issues in a public forum, as during a hilarious “The Dick Cavett Show” clip in which she expresses a fantasy about her husband dying so she can marry Nichols. Simultaneously, she’s cast as a control freak whose candor was, at heart, her means of wrestling dominion over her life’s most tumultuous aspects. In that regard, “Everything Is Copy” argues that her decision to keep her fatal illness from even those dearest to her was less a rejection of her “everything is copy” ethos than an act driven by her fearful inability to manage this last stage of her own story.

Anything but a morose tale of a bright light snuffed out far too soon, Bernstein’s documentary is an inspiring heartstring-tugger. Buoyed by proficient nonfiction techniques, it nimbly captures, in both words and images, the spirit of Ephron: a larger-than-life force of nature whose triumphs were born from her unapologetic embrace of ambition, and from her shrewd recognition that honesty, whether sweet or scathing, always goes down better with a dose of humor.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'Everything Is Copy'

Reviewed at New York Film Festival, September 18, 2015. Running time: 89 MIN.

Production: (Documentary) An HBO Documentary Films production, in association with Consolidated Pictures. Produced by Carly Hugo, Matthew Parker. Executive producers, Sheila Nevins, Graydon Carter, Annabelle Dunne. Supervising producer, Lisa Heller.

Crew: Directed, written by Jacob Bernstein. Co-directed by Nick Hooker. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Bradford Young; editor, Bob Eisenhardt; sound (DTS/SDDS/Dolby Digital), Eric Branting, Wil Masisak, Austin Plocher; re-recording mixer, Lee Dichter; associate producer, Alexandra Pitz.

With: Nora Ephron, Mike Nichols, Tom Hanks, Delia Ephron, David Remnick, Gay Talese, Steven Spielberg, Meryl Streep (English dialogue)

More Film

  • La Rouei

    Lumiere Festival to Premiere Epic Restoration of 'La Roue'

    LYON, France  —  This coming Saturday and Sunday, the Lumière Festival will turn back the clock nearly one hundred years as the festival premieres a new completed reconstruction of Abel Gance’s 1923 masterpiece “La Roue” (“The Wheel”) that restores the classic to its original 7.5 hour length. Consisting of a prologue and four movements, “La [...]

  • Lina Wertmuller portrait

    Lina Wertmuller’s Exceptional Career Revisited

    In the still American-led realm of the Academy Awards, it’s unusual for the helmer of a film not in the English language to score a Best Director nomination. It’s far rarer still, meanwhile, for a woman to be nominated in the category at all: just five have done so in 91 years. Only one director, [...]

  • Fifth Seal

    Lumière Festival Honors Hungary, Screens Classics ‘Women,’ ‘The Fifth Seal’

    For the fifth year running, Lyon’s Lumière Festival will honor Hungarian cinema and invite guests of the Hungarian National Film Fund to present two classic Hungarian films from important national filmmakers, Márta Mészáros’ “Ők ketten” (“Women”) and Zoltán Fábri’s “Fifth Seal.” Both films will be presented by Lumière Festival special guest Marina Vlady on Oct [...]

  • Godzilla

    Criterion Collection President Peter Becker on Storytelling, Bergman vs Godzilla, B-movies

    LYON, France  —  The Lumière Festival’s International Classic Film Market (MIFC) kicked off on Tuesday in Lyon, France, with a keynote address by Criterion Collection President Peter Becker. The exec discussed the company’s storied history and evolution over the decades into a leading publisher of classic and contemporary films from around the world in high-quality [...]

  • Manuel Chiche

    Boutique Distributor Manuel Chiche Offers A State of The Industry

    LYON, France  — Manuel Chiche is riding high. Since June, his boutique distribution outlet The Jokers set admission records with Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite,” selling nearly 1.7 million tickets in France and still going strong as the film heads into its 19th week in theaters. Indeed, “Parasite” is now the second most successful Palme d’Or winner of [...]

  • Toni

    Italy’s L'Immagine Ritrovata Expected to Take Over France’s Eclair Cinema

    LYON, France  —  Leading Italian restoration company L’Immagine Ritrovata’s acquisition of renowned film lab Eclair Cinéma, announced last month, is expected to be approved by the French Commercial Court of Nanterre at the end of November or beginning of December, according to a source familiar with the deal. L’Immagine Ritrovata’s French subsidiary, L’Image Retrouvée, last [...]

  • Jay and Silent Bob Reboot

    Film Review: 'Jay and Silent Bob Reboot'

    In a film culture overrun by Marvel epics, wild-stunt action flicks, and other grandiose juvenilia, it is often said that the mid-budget, script-driven movie for adults is becoming a thing of the past. But don’t tell that to Kevin Smith, whose “Jay and Silent Bob Reboot,” a shaggy antic throwaway that premiered Tuesday in the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content