“When you slip on a banana peel,” Nora Ephron liked to say, “people laugh at you. But when you tell people you slipped on a banana peel, it’s your laugh.”
This was a guiding principle of her life: power, via sharing. Control, via opening up. You tell the story, so the story doesn’t tell you. Banana-peel logic informs another Ephronism, the one that gives its name to the documentary about Ephron’s life that is currently airing on HBO: “Everything is copy.” The line comes from Ephron’s mother, who—like pretty much everyone else in her family, including both of her parents, all three of her sisters, all three of her husbands, and one of her two sons—was also a professional writer. And it’s a fitting motto for Ephron, who, on top of everything else she accomplished, anticipated the searing, first-person confessional that would become one of the defining modes of Internet writing.
“Writers are cannibals,” Ephron told Charlie Rose in a long-ago interview. “They really are. They are predators, and if you are friends with them, and if you say anything funny at dinner, or if anything good happens to you, you are in big trouble.”
Everything Is Copy was created by Ephron’s son, Jacob Bernstein (the son who is a professional journalist) as an act of tribute, and questioning, and sense-making. And the documentary is—as Ephron herself was, it suggests—witty and generous and occasionally brutal in its honesty. Through interviews with Ephron’s many famous friends and colleagues (Tom Hanks, Rita Wilson, Steven Spielberg, Gay Talese, Rosie O’Donnell, Meg Ryan, Mike Nichols, and on and on) Bernstein presents his mother as a writer who lived out loud, insistently. The film is composed of the two layers that most good writing involves, somehow: declaration and exploration, with the one animating the other.