Baby Fish Mouth

 

“…is sweeping the nation,” yes. I know.

Here’s the thing. I’ve always had a fondness for that movie. I can’t quote every line, but there are a few notables that I’ll throw out there in conversation because they’re like hand-holds of common language. Someone offers you a slice of pie and you say, “I would be pleased to partake of your pee-can piiie,” and you make a friend because they love that flick. But what I’ve always felt about that movie, despite liking it and thinking the writing makes it the gold standard for romantic comedies, is that I wouldn’t want to hang out with Nora Ephron. Not ever.

Which is fine. She’s dead and it’s not like it was ever going to happen even when she wasn’t quite so. Still, I remember feeling that way when a friend and I were discussing that flick, after watching it one night. She was glowing about the writing, and I was stuck with this feeling that I’d be disappointed if I were ever confronted with the actual human being that did that writing. I feel that way about most artists. Think about how a conversation with Prince would go…

Sean: Hey man, how’s it going?
Prince: I’m Prince, and you’re not.
Sean: Fair enough. Have a great afternoon.

This is all leading up to me saying that despite having seen and enjoyed a fair number of Nora Ephron’s flicks (she still owes me for You’ve Got Mail, I blame her, and not the girl who dragged me to it) I’ve never read any of her non-movie writing until this weekend. We went to a cabin on the Wisconsin River, and had a really nice time until the squirt got sick and started vomiting uncontrollably after touching a fish. I’m not saying the fish is the reason for the vomiting, but one did follow the other. I know. Correlation does not equal causation, but that was a huge fish, and the kid just wouldn’t stop throwing up. I need something big to blame. So, the next day, after we’d gotten the baby rehydrated and she wasn’t quite so zukey, I picked up Ephron’s book I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman which was on the shelf in the bathroom. I was reading while the baby napped, and enjoying some quiet time on the deck while glancing up at the sunshine hitting the water.

I found myself disappointed. Not because it’s not a funny book. It totally is. It’s full of the same kind of wit that you expect from one of her movies. But it’s also full of stuff from her life that is completely foreign to anything I can relate to. She’s namedropping Rosie O’Donnell and Martha Stewart as folks she hangs out with, and I find myself zoning out because it sounds like Harry/Sally bitching about his/her awesome life. It’s that same feeling I get sometimes when I’m watching a Julia Roberts movie, and I’m forced to pretend that Julia Roberts is something other than Julia Roberts. For some reason I’m able to do that with Cate Blanchett, or even Brad Pitt, but Julia Roberts or Tom Cruise just make a movie impenetrable for me. You just can’t expect me to not see Tom Cruise there, unless he’s dancing in a fat suit (see Tropic Thunder). I was reading this book and I kept catching myself going, “Oh, boo-fucking-hoo, Nora (Harry/Sally). Must be tough.”

Which is totally on me. But what I also found myself thinking was, “Would I feel the same way if it was Emma Thompson that I was reading?” Does it matter that I’m reading the person behind the voice of Sally? Because that voice is all through her writing. That person is in there with her. She’s also the person who wrote Harry, so that voice is in there too, but that may not help, as I don’t want to spend the weekend with Billy Crystal’s character any more than Meg Ryan’s. If it were Emma Thompson’s memoirs I was reading, would I find less fault? How about Bonnie Hunt? I’m using those two because they’re female screenwriters that I admire, and think are extremely gifted and funny. And for some reason, I think I would find them less annoying.

There. I said it. I found her memoirs annoying. She’s funny, and she writes great dialogue, and I found myself alternately laughing and scowling. And I’m sure that if I met her when she was alive, I would have been disarmed by how personable she actually was, but after reading her own voice, as opposed to the movie version of Harry or Sally, I still found myself getting that Tom Cruise feeling. That feeling that the person I’m seeing isn’t real, no matter how honest they’re being. And part of me thought I was being too harsh, and another part said, “No. Fuck it. In the hands of a better writer, I would love this woman, warts and all.” I didn’t love her warts. I found myself wanting to stop reading because she was sounding like all the New Yorkers I’ve ever seen on screen that made me want to never visit New York again. Yet I kept reading because I did like some of it. I loved the comic stuff, the moments that popped just like her movie dialogue pops. Biting and brisk. I just didn’t love her character, and I found myself sad that I didn’t.

But like I said, that’s on me. The nature of writing as an artform makes me wonder if it’s ALL on me, or if she’d done a better job of it, I might love her despite the things I don’t like about her. But then I think of Meg Ryan, and think maybe she’s the Anti-Tom Cruise. Where I see Tom Cruise no matter what part he’s playing, I see Sally no matter what part Meg Ryan is playing. Maybe I just don’t like that character, and she is that character to me, no matter what. Either way, I eventually put the book down and went to enjoy the rest of the weekend, thankful that the puking was over, and that baby fish mouth was no longer sweeping the nation.

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