A slick tribute to Nora Ephron, knowingly directed by her son, provides an intimate peek at the writer’s path to celebrity.
Everything Is Copy (NYFF 2015)
Every story told becomes filtered through the lens of its storyteller, and rarely does that implication loom as large as when a son directs a film about his mother. In the case of journalist Jacob Bernstein, his debut documentary Everything Is Copy serves as a semi-reverential tribute to his mom, the late great writer Nora Ephron (When Harry Met Sally…, Sleepless in Seattle), but one with a distinctly personal investment in the narrative. The immediacy of Bernstein’s relationship with the film’s subject is consistently evident. Interview subjects from famous faces like Rosie O’Donnell and Meg Ryan as well as family friends and Bernstein’s father occasionally refer to Ephron as, “your mother,” Jacob appears on screen himself, and much of the movie is devoted to Ephron the person rather than Ephron the essayist and filmmaker. Often, Bernstein appears to be discovering aspects of his mother’s life in time with the film, assembling a general, but intimate look at an icon as remembered by those close to her.
Though many of the featured talking heads in Everything Is Copy are well known, it’s people like Ephron’s sisters and below-the-line crew members from Ephron’s films that provide the most illuminating details on the late author’s life. People fondly recall Ephron’s magnetism; Meryl Streep speaks in awe of the Julie & Julia filmmaker’s unparalleled abilities as a party hostess, bouncing between cooking and conversation. They’re small glimpses into a trailblazer’s story but not the primary focus of Everything Is Copy.
Instead, Bernstein examines the people and relationships that mattered most to Nora. As one of entertainment’s most formative writers of romance and women’s voices, Ephron drew much of her inspiration at times from a turbulent personal life. Specifically, her marriage and eventual separation from Jacob’s father Carl Bernstein. This lead to Ephron’s bestselling book and 1986 film Heartburn, a movie that the documentary covers extensively for its implications on Ephron’s family life. It’s disappointing when the rest of Everything Is Copy skims over the rest of her film career with the breadth of a Wikipedia entry; however, Bernstein chooses to explore the impact that producing Heartburn had on Ephron’s immediate family.
Everything Is Copy skews toward slick convention in its scattershot glimpse at the experiences that helped to define Nora Eprhon’s life. With striking black & white vignettes of famous actresses—Lena Dunham and Reese Witherspoon among them—reading excerpts from Ephron’s best essays to the exquisitely composed shots of Jacob typing away on his laptop, the documentary moves quickly through Ephron’s life story. The approach feels glossy, perhaps even to its own detriment, despite sleek packaging which gives the documentary a sense of having been consciously constructed.
Everything Is Copy is not the wall-to-wall puff piece one might imagine, though it only samples from Ephron’s less favorable habits. The self-centered choices she made and her thin patience—firing many crew members for single mistakes—are acknowledged in passing. Bernstein understandably focuses on his mother’s successes. The documentary contains a highlight reel of a storied career, resembling a kind of visual obituary. For lovers of her work or those with only a passing appreciation for Nora Ephron, Everything Is Copy provides an intimate peek at the writer’s path to celebrity.