More on Meyers

This post is an addendum to podcast Episode 19. Maternal Meyers.

As if we didn’t blab enough in the podcast, but in case you would like to know more about Meyers…

When I think about Nancy Meyers, I think about her sizzling characters.  I think about her particularity. Her strong will. I think about her huge influence on the rom-com genre and bringing back the notion of the nuclear family (whether you like that or not – that is another can of worms).

She considers herself a late bloomer, having not obtained the filmmaker’s bug until post-college when she became a PA on The Price is Right. That show was her technical start, but what really set her in motion to becoming a writer/director/producer was submitting a spec script for The Mary Tyler Moore Show. The spec was not picked up, but the experience left an impression on her later works. In 1980 she joined forces with her then husband, Charles Shyer to create the first Meyer-Shyer tag-team film about an affluent women who joins the army (a producing debut for Goldie Hawn, who plays Judy Benjamin, the lead). A year later she tried turning the movie into a television show; it didn’t work out. Throughout the 1980s and up to 1998 “Smeyers” co-created movies including Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Father of the Bride I and II.

And in 1998, Meyers had her big directorial debut. Boy, did she deliver.

I like that she gave herself the time to sink her teeth into the art form. Budding filmmakers are sometimes so eager to create that they bite off more than they can chew (gotta love these mastication metaphors). She was able to observe, learn, and when the time came – direct. You know, just direct a modest – oh -multi-million dollar reboot of a Disney classic with kick-ass compositing special effects, beautiful production design, tri-coastal shooting locations, and an epic fencing battle – a movie that just happened to enchant the nation.

*Ironic shrug*

It came with a price, however. The “Smeyers” dynamic became the Meyer dynamic. Sorry, Shyer. You’re still cool! I – just – I mean – this post is about Meyers. So they got divorced, but Meyers still respects Shyer and they both still connect for creative discussion. Also, they had two kids for Pete’s sake,   Hallie Meyers-Shyer and Annie Meyers-Shyer.  This is not about who is better. Moving on!

(Fun fact: Hallie and Annie Meyers-Shyer share the same name’s as the twins in 1998 Parent Trap.)

Enough backstory. Now onto those sizzling characters – those that were not discussed in the podcast:

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Mel Gibson as Nick Marshall in What Women Want (2000)
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Jude Law and Cameron Diaz as Graham and Amanda in The Holiday (2006)
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Kate Winslet and Jack Black as Iris and Miles in The Holiday (2006)
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Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton as Harry Sanborn and Erica Barry  in Something’s Gotta Give (2003)

Can we appreciate the fact that Neo is also in this film?

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Keanu Reeves as Julian Mercer in Something’s Gotta Give (2003)

…and he definitely didn’t take the blue pill. Because he had Diane Keaton. Too far? Moving on!

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Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin and Jane and Jack Adler in It’s Complicated (2009)

Not only are Meyers’ characters vivacious, showing that life does not end after you turn thirty, they demonstrate a commonality that caring is cool and people can learn from their mistakes. Like Mel Gibson can learn not to be chauvinist with a little mind reading magic.  I dig that. Also in Meyers films, people can appreciate one another even when they are not “in love.”

In fact, just to be difficult, I find the most compelling relationship, the truest love of them all not pictured. It is the love between Iris and Arthur Abbott (Eli Wallach), a made-up classic Hollywood writer in The Holiday whom Iris (Kate Winslet) helps after she swaps houses with Amanda (Cameron Diaz) for a vacation. Iris stands by his side wading (pun intended) acting as a volunteer physical therapist. All the while she thinks she is helping him while he is actually teaching her what you – of course – can only learn from an old screenwriter: the importance of gumption.

You know who has gumption? Meyers as a director. She has a specific vision for what she wants. She wants light, softness, and she’s persnickety about production design. I love that. Not that I share that particular taste of style, but I love the fact that she sticks with it. It’s her signature. She’s confident in it. You don’t need to look at the credits to realize you’re watching a Nancy Meyers film. The images on screen tell you.  She has her say in everything – from what book is in the background of a frame to whether or not a crescendo should or shouldn’t be added to a musical score. That’s true authority; that’s being an auteur.

Apart from age representation, Meyer’s influence on the rom-com genre largely has to do with female representation. She shows strong, hard-working females (and hard-working males for that matter). All her characters have jobs, have done pretty well for themselves, but in some form they are unsatisfied emotionally. According to Meyers, money can’t (exactly) buy you happiness, but it can buy you a gorgeous beach house like in Something’s Gotta Give.

I think Meyers is aware of how relatively rosy the situation is, though, and embraces it. She harks back to the 1930s and 40s screwball comedies – think Hepburn and Tracy re-imagined. Screwball characters were not characters who worried about money. Instead they demonstrated affluence – that invented, transatlantic class. Except with Nancy Meyers, there is a great deal more nuance.

In today’s movie climate perhaps these movies don’t quite fit. They may even seem a little backwards. You may be thinking – Families that are super nice to one another? Relationships that work ? What gives? This isn’t real. Legitimate qualms, to be sure. Along with – where is my face? I don’t see me represented in that class, race, or ethnicity. It’s true, a Meyers film may target a very specific demographic, but there are interesting ideas in Meyers films that I feel could apply to any group – like how to be kind and vulnerable.

Whether or not Meyers has said all she wants to say with her most recent film, The Intern (2015), she has passed the proverbial torch to her daughter, Hallie Meyers-Shyer with the upcoming movie, Home Again, a rom-com starring Reese Witherspoon, about a newly separated mom with three male housemates (shenanigans are sure to ensue).

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