The key is this excerpt from her autobiography provided by Levy, in which Ephron describes the aftershocks of her insane father's death:
"And when that happened, I don't know how to say this except...it was a moment of almost comic relief. It seemed entirely possible, in character, understandable, and I think we all filed it under Will I Ever Be Able to Use This in Anything?"The list of writers who've drawn from the well of family tragedy is longer than those solely reliant on the fictive muse; but in Ephron's movies pain has a clammy aftertaste. Grief is mined for sitcom punchlines. Lubitsch's movies exist in a tinker-toy world of his own making, but The Shop Around the Corner (the inspiration for You've Got Mail) draws finely shaded regret beneath the verbal foreplay (Frank Morgan's offstage suicide attempt hints at the consequences of drawing too often on decorum). The new Julia and Julia sounds promising, although the presence of RoboStreep makes me wonder whether we'll get this instead.
This is a family coping mechanism that was explicitly instilled. "Everything is copy," their mother used to say, which was related to her expectation that all suffering be reconfigured into a funny story be ore it was brought to her attention. "Take notes," she directed Nora, from her deathbed.