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Enough already: the wonderful, horrible reception of Nancy Meyers.

She is the most successful woman filmmaker since Mary Pickford. (1) Her films sell more tickets than those of Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino. Her track record is so solid she now earns upwards of $12 million a picture (not including her gross percentage) and is one of a handful of Hollywood directors who has final cut approval on her films. (2) The major studios are happy to hand over this autonomy because every film she's produced has made them money. Yet the name Nancy Meyers remains relatively unknown outside the Hollywood community. Film literature almost never mention her, critics frequently dismiss her films, and the few flattering media accounts consider Meyers as little else than an accomplished "chick flick" filmmaker, or "rom-com queen." (3)


While her success lacks the magnitude of James Cameron, Steven Spielberg and such, she's not producing big-budgeted action epics either. She tells relationship stories that outperform popular stylists like Scorsese and Tarantino. In that context, clearly there is an art to her craft that warrants attention. Besides, after 30 years as a Hollywood player, surely it's time more people realize who she is, why she is so successful, and why it matters.

Star power, marketing and publicity are all elements that help make popular cinema happen, but at its core it's about telling a story that large numbers of people want to see. More significantly, their success helps guide the filmmaking process. What movies are produced in the future depends a great deal on which ones draw audiences today. This is why the citing of box office statistics is crucial to this discussion, and will be stressed throughout. However, the predominant perception in media reports is that the films of Nancy Meyers only cater to a particular audience, especially older women. (4) Yet her box office success is so pronounced and consistent, is it really possible that only frustrated spinsters and bored housewives are flocking to her films? This writer certainly considers himself an exception.

Nancy Meyers, by the numbers

The numbers below are based on estimated number of tickets sold for each film. (5) Because of inflation (some of the films date back to the 1970s when ticket prices were as little as $2) instead of simply listing dollar amounts, the box office totals were divided by average ticket prices for each year. (6) This comparison will focus on each filmmaker's top five, including those they have written or co-written (to match the five total directed by Meyers) as some--Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen for instance--have as many as 40 films to their credit, spanning a career of nearly half a century. In Nancy Meyer's case, including her co-writing credits, her top five prove to be:
Something's Gotta Give (2003)       20,684,700
What Women Want (2000)              33,916,829
Father of the Bride Part II (1995)  17,607,841
Father of the Bride (1991)          21,217,525
Private Benjamin (1980)             25,965,557

TOTAL TICKETS SOLD                  119,392,452

If, however, we only list those she has directed, the total still easily exceeds many of the others in this comparison:
It's Complicated (2009)        14,941,866
The Holiday (2006)             9,652,648
Something's Gotta Give (2003)  20,684,700
What Women Want (2000)         33,916,829
The Parent Trap (1998)         10,300,054

TOTAL TICKETS SOLD             89,496,097


Compare this with Judd Apatow, who has become renowned as one of the hottest comedy filmmakers of the last decade. He has only directed three features--40-Year-Old Virgin (2005), Knocked Up (2007) and Funny People (2009)--so his top five films (including those he has co-written) prove to be:
Pineapple Express (2008)              12,164,538
You Don't Mess with the Zohan (2008)  13,930,201
Knocked Up (2007)                     21,623,390
Fun with Dick and Jane (2005)         17,212,596
The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005)         17,074,764

TOTAL TICKETS SOLD                    82,005,489

Woody Allen is arguably the most well known filmmaker of relationship comedies of all time. With inflation adjustment, his top five films prove to be:
Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)                              10,804,323
Manhattan (1979)                                           16,172,785
Annie Hall (1977)                                          17,153,105
Sleeper (1973)                                             11,118,017
Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex ... (1972)  10,918,963

TOTAL TICKETS SOLD                                         66,167,193

Richard Curtis has written some of the most popular romantic comedies of the last 20 years. Pirate Radio (2009) and Love Actually (2003) are the only films he has directed, so the inclusion of his screenwriting credits helps identify these as his top five:
Bridget Jones: Edge of Reason (2004)  6,477,652
Love Actually (2003)                  9,899,859
Bridget Jones Diary (2001)            12,662,554
Notting Hill (1999)                   22,942,625
Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)    12,916,871

TOTAL TICKETS SOLD                    66,096,615

In recent years Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino and the Coen Brothers have been much talked about in terms of their perceived artistic excellence. This garners them much name recognition, which usually translates into greater ticket sales. First there's Martin Scorsese, who became one of the most celebrated filmmakers of the 1970s with films like Taxi Driver (1976). In subsequent decades he has continued making popular, critically acclaimed and award-winning films like The Departed (2006), which won Academy Awards for Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Picture. His top five films include:
Shutter Island (2010)      16,922,840
The Departed (2006)        20,211,346
The Aviator (2004)         16,523,403
Cape Fear (1991)           18,786,691
The Color of Money (1986)  14,095,413

TOTAL TICKETS SOLD         86,539,693

Quentin Tarantino is easily the most hyped director of the last 20 years. Even people who don't go to the movies know who he is. Including his story credit for Natural Born Killers (1994), his top films are:
Inglourious Basterds (2009)  16,072,096
Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004)      10,661,544
Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003)      11,625,049
Pulp Fiction (1994)          26,453,127
Natural Born Killers (1994)  12,324,208

TOTAL TICKETS SOLD           77,136,024

Joel & Ethan Coen first gained prominence with their debut film Blood Simple (1984), and later achieved lasting recognition with their Oscar-nominated Fargo (1996). Their top films are as follows:
Burn After Reading (2008)          8,406,037
No Country for Old Men (2007)      10,797,039
The Ladykillers (2004)             6,408,888
Intolerable Cruelty (2003)         5,858,645
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)  8,443,894

TOTAL TICKETS SOLD                 62,759,053

Among female directors, one of the most celebrated artists in recent history has been Kathryn Bigelow, who earned a Best Director Oscar (the first for any female director) for The Hurt Locker (2008). Here are her top five films:
The Hurt Locker (2008)      1,960,000
K19: The Widowmaker (2002)  6,063,615
Strange Days (1995)         1,829,722
Point Break (1991)          10,265,651
Blue Steel (1989)           1,947,393

TOTAL TICKETS SOLD          22,066,381

Sofia Coppola has also earned much media exposure; particularly after the release of her Oscar-nominated film Lost in Translation (2003). Her accumulated numbers are as follows:
Marie Antoinette (2006)     2,437,019
Lost in Translation (2003)  7,393,939
The Virgin Suicides (1999)  910,247

TOTAL TICKETS SOLD          10,741,205

Mimi Leder's most recent film, Thick as Thieves (2009), never secured a theatrical release; hence it earned zero dollars at the box office. Her accumulated numbers are:
Pay It Forward (2000)  6,218,855
Deep Impact (1998)     29,949,822
The Peacemaker (1997)  8,989,791

TOTAL TICKETS SOLD     45,158,468

Penny Marshall hasn't directed a Hollywood feature since Riding in Cars with Boys (2001). Her top five are as follows:
The Preacher's Wife (1996)    10,882,986
A League of Their Own (1992)  25,911,790
Awakenings (1990)             12,345,137
Big (1988)                    27,972,938
Jumpin' Jack Flash (1986)     8,044,233

TOTAL TICKETS SOLD            85,157,084

Including her screenplay for When Harry Met Sally ... (1989), Nora Ephron's top five are:
Julie & Julia (2009)             12,550,057
You've Got Mail (1998)           24,695,415
Michael (1996)                   21,565,205
Sleepless in Seattle (1993)      30,599,248
When Harry Met Sally ... (1989)  23,264,047

TOTAL TICKETS SOLD               112,673,972

Beyond these examples we're into the realm of Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, James Cameron, Peter Jackson, Roland Emmerich, Michael Bay, Ridley Scott, and Christopher Nolan whose gigantic grosses are fueled by action-fantasy adventures, $100-200 million budgets and monster marketing.

"If Wilder can do it, I can too"

Without the benefit of stories populated with space aliens, fireball explosions, gunplay or even a car chase, what is the secret of Meyers' success? Surprisingly, the best clue can be seen in the name of her production company: Waverly Films. It's actually named after the Waverly Theatre in Drexal Hill, Pennsylvania. Throughout the 1950s and 60s Meyers spent much of her childhood watching movies there. Like Scorsese, Spielberg, Tarantino and countless other directors, she studied the movies she saw in her youth and inevitably desired to make her own; to recreate the same emotions and thrills her favourite films did for her. But instead of crime dramas, action adventures or B-movie exploitation flicks, she generally preferred the relationship comedies of Howard Hawks, Ernst Lubitsch and Billy Wilder.

While she was writing The Holiday (2006), for example, Billy Wilder's The Apartment (1960) "was kind of a guiding light, because I had a similar relationship with the Kate Winslet and Jack Black characters," says Meyers. (7) "I was writing about two people who had been hurt by love, and whose friendship blossomed into a romance, so I sort of tracked the way it was done in The Apartment." (8) She also highlights such minute details as the use of narration in Wilder's film, and how it only appears during the opening scenes. "I love that there's no narration anywhere else in the movie. In Baby Boom we did it the same way. I said, 'if Wilder can do it, I can too.'" (9)

Baby Boom (1987) was just one of six films Meyers made with her former partner Charles Shyer. Though they shared co-writing and co-producing credits, the stories they produced were typically based on ideas she came up with. Private Benjamin, for example, was inspired by a simple thought she had in 1976. "I remember driving on the Ventura Freeway when I was about 27, to run an errand, when I thought, "What if a girl joined the Army to escape her problems?" (10)

1976 was the same year she met Shyer and they became partners. Though she shared writing credit with him and Harvey Miller on Private Benjamin, it was Meyers who originally pitched the story to Goldie Hawn, who then agreed to star and executive produce the film. "Hawn told her to write it and she would produce it." (11) But there was no way Meyers would be considered to direct it. Not in 1980. (12) Even her presence on the set was apparently frowned upon. "She really shouldn't be there alone on the set," as one studio exec was overheard saying. (13) As Meyers recalled, "It was quite an ol' boys' network back then, even if it was 1980." (14)

The success of Private Benjamin was impressive. It ranked #6 at the box office in 1980. But even though it was Meyers' story idea from the beginning, and her involvement was clearly instrumental in getting it made, it was Shyer who would grab the director's chair for their future collaborations. Still, there are no accounts suggesting Meyers resented being in the shadow of her partner. They made five more films together: Irreconcilable Differences (1984), Baby Boom (1987), Father of the Bride (1991), I Love Trouble (1994) and Father of the Bride, Part II (1995). All were either modest or major successes, and each drew more and more consciously from the classics of Hollywood's Golden Age. The Father of the Bride films, for example, were remakes of the Spencer Tracy films Father of the Bride (1950) and Father's Little Dividend (1951), while I Love Trouble borrowed heavily from the storyline of Bringing Up Baby (1938). Together they provide clear signs of Meyers' love for classic Hollywood comedies, as they would continue being referred to in her later films.

Charles Shyer, on the other hand, has yet to show a similar trend. After the two parted ways in the late 1990s he directed the costume-drama The Affair of the Necklace (2001). It earned a meager $430,313 at the box office. His next film, Alfie (2004), was a remake of the British-made Alfie (1966). The $60 million film made a relatively paltry $13 million at the box office, and Shyer has yet to release another film. Consequently, the secret of his earlier success seems more than partially attributable to Meyers' contributions.

"I just hadn't pulled the trigger"

By the early 1990s "I was ready to direct," says Meyers, "I just hadn't pulled the trigger." (15) She was offered the opportunity to direct Father of the Bride, Part II "but I didn't want my first directing movie to be a sequel to a movie Charles directed. I didn't think that would be fulfilling." (16) She instead opted to make her directorial debut with The Parent Trap (1998) for Walt Disney Pictures, a remake of a 1961 Disney film. With the divorce rate at a near all-time high, Meyers felt its story of twin daughters trying to reunite their divorced parents was especially timely. 'It's a dream, isn't it, that you can get your parents back together?" says Meyers. (17)

The story set-up of The Parent Trap has always defied logic--divorced parents separate their twin daughters, keep them thousands of miles apart for well over a decade, never letting on about each other's existence until the parents unwittingly send them to the same summer camp--and this remake makes no attempt to rectify its contrivance. But as with all of Meyers' films it's the charm of the characters, and how they interact with each other, that elicit its best moments. Again Meyers mines material from classic Hollywood to achieve this result. The scene in which the parent characters first see each other in a hotel lobby is almost shot-for-shot taken from a similar moment between Cary Grant and Irene Dunne in My Favorite Wife (1940).

But unlike some--Quentin Tarantino for instance--Meyers rarely makes her film references obvious. She is more concerned with servicing her story than with showing off her knowledge of movie trivia. For example, when she later wrote the ending to The Holiday, she once again took guidance from Billy Wilder's The Apartment. "When I was writing my ending, I thought, I wonder how Billy Wilder described the look on Shirley MacLaine's face in that scene," says Meyers, referring to the moment when MacLaine finally runs into Jack Lemmon's arms. (18) She had a copy of the original script on her desk and in it Wilder wrote "'She runs to him with a happy, expectant look on her face.' So I wrote that, just for a little private moment. And I finished my script. 'The End.'

"That night I was invited to a friend of mine's house for a party, and I got there, and Shirley MacLaine was there. It was spooky. I'd never seen her before in my life. Of course, I couldn't help but tell her what I'd done that afternoon in my script. And she said, 'Well, let me give you a hint. Make sure you have a fan on whoever plays the girl, because he had a fan on me, and it really helped with the run.'" (19) Indeed, when the two scenes are compared, this subtle cinematic detail becomes apparent. It perfectly accentuates the emotions of the characters. But without Meyers' admission it's impossible to imagine anyone would have made the connection.

After the success of The Parent Trap Meyers joined forces with Mel Gibson, to tell the story about a man who can magically hear the private thoughts of women. What Women Want (2000) would become the most successful film ever directed by a woman, scoring a worldwide box office of over $374 million (it ranked #5 at the box office that year, bested only by Gladiator, Mission: Impossible II, Cast Away and How the Grinch Stole Christmas). (20)

Here Meyers begins utilizing some obvious elements of the classic screwball comedy, as in the scene when Gibson wears pantyhose, nail polish, and a Wonderbra. Male cross-dressing shows up in such screwball classics as Bringing Up Baby, I Was a Male War Bride (1949) and Some Like It Hot (1959), but the process was never as comically choreographed as Meyers succeeds in doing. The film then expands on this cross-dressing element by having the philandering Gibson character journey into the minds of women, instead of just their clothes. Like Jack Lemmon's character in Some Like It Hot, the experience is more revealing than he expects. It opens his eyes and floods him with sensitivity and understanding of the female psyche he never before saw or embraced.

"Appeals to a wide target audience, not just women"

After the extraordinary success of What Women Want Meyers was now in the unique position to tailor a film specifically for two actors of her choosing--Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton. She approached both with an outline and, with their approval and commitment, went to work on the script. Until then she had either collaborated with Shyer, or reworked scripts from other writers (e.g. What Women Want). Now, finally, she would fully venture on her own as sole writer and director. The resulting film, Something's Gotta Give (2003), would become her most critically acclaimed.


As Kelli Marshall writes in her abstract to the essay Something's Gotta Give and the classical screwball comedy:

"Like its screwball predecessors, Something's Gotta Give presents a comparatively complex view of love and romance, which is represented by slapstick humor, verbal sparring, and characters who function both actively and passively. In addition, the film's creators pay careful attention to casting and the distinct character types and the narrative framework of the commitment comedy, a subgenre of the screwball comedy. Consequently, Something's Gotta Give, like the screw-ball comedies of the 1930s and '40s (and unlike most current romance films), appeals to a wide target audience, not just women." (21)

Marshall's abstract singlehandedly sums up the essential ingredients that not only made Something's Gotta Give a success, but just about every film Meyers has been involved with, including her later efforts The Holiday and It's Complicated (2009). As evidenced by the latter's title, the relationships of the characters are not presented as easy unions. The lovers face tough logistical challenges that seem difficult, if not impossible, to overcome. The Holiday, for example, concludes on a happy note (arguably too schmaltzy for its own good) yet never explains how the two couples (particularly the Cameron Diaz and Jude Law characters) can possibly continue their relationship when they both have firm roots in their home environments, thousands of miles apart. It was a problem that existed in The Parent Trap too, but never addressed.

The structure of Meyers' character relationships often results in them painting themselves into such awkward corners and, instead of figuring out a tidy solution, their adventures typically end midstream. But the charm of the process, the unforeseeable roads they travel, the witty banter they share--all familiar elements that exist throughout classic Hollywood films--help overshadow this logistical crisis. It is a notable departure from the more linear approach of many contemporary romantic comedies that often scream predictability, and fail to be as consistently successful as a Nancy Meyers film.

The crucial difference between Meyers' films and most modern-day romantic comedies (often erroneously considered one and the same by film critics) is that, in the latter, the central lovers typically begin as a perfect union. They just don't realize it yet. They are blind to their shared interests, desires and compatibility--but it's obvious to the audience. In The Ugly Truth (2009), for example, the Gerard Butler character is presented as a misogynistic cad who could not possibly be a caring lover to anyone, much less the highly-strung female lead. Quickly, though, we are presented with evidence of his true sensitivity (e.g. his caring relationship with his nephew) so a love union is no longer a question of how, but when. It's a lazy device.


In What Women Want, on the other hand, the Mel Gibson character is a misogynistic cad. It even opens with a detailed back-story that firmly establishes how he was born and bred into a model of boorish manhood. Then, when he gains the power of female insight, he fittingly exploits it for the purposes of sexual conquest and career advancement. How he will later win the heart of Helen Hunt's character, whose career he tries to destroy, is not made obvious--though it seems surprisingly genuine when it does happen--nor how their relationship will continue beyond the final frame. After she discovers how he had attempted to sabotage her career, she fires him in the final scene. Not exactly a typical happy ending.

"She has rushed in where angels fear to tread"

Besides the aforementioned essay by Kelli Marshall, it's difficult to find any significant analysis or study--even mere mention--of Meyers and her films beyond the occasional publicity-driven journalistic piece. (22) What does exist often strives to make the same point; that the appeal of her films is limited to women.

In her mammoth New York Times feature, unfortunately entitled "Can Anybody Make a Movie for Women? Nancy Meyers can. Again and again," Daphne Merkin provides the greatest reinforcement of this fallacious assumption. (23) Its cover photo--a strikingly obvious Photoshop creation--has Meyers standing with satisfaction amongst a movie theatre crowd comprised entirely of laughing, smiling women. Not a man in sight. Merkin further claims that Meyers focuses "on making films that both feature and speak to middle-aged women ... Meyers's decision to pay attention to a part of the population that is often construed (and often construes itself) to be invisible stands out in bold relief ... [she] has rushed in where angels fear to tread to rescue the middle-aged and manless woman from her lonely plight. She has taken this sorry creature, who is bombarded with reminders of her vanished youthfulness everywhere she turns, and placed her in an alternate universe, where she is not only visible but desirable just the way she is." Merkin carries on in this vein for several paragraphs before finally making reference to the screwball comedies that are clearly Meyers' forte, before swiftly surmising, "What those earlier movies had that Meyers's movies don't was a certain knowingness; hers speak to a more naive, homespun spirit." (24)

For an 8000-word profile, published in one of America's most celebrated newspapers, this is one of the most flattering one is likely to find about Meyers. Time Magazine film critic Richard Schickel, for example, has habitually written with venom and a touch of chauvinism when discussing her films. In his review of What Women Want he wrote, "The movie has none of the giddy wit we associate with classic romantic comedy. It just runs on and on--like a slightly stupid story you wish you hadn't overheard in a singles bar." (25) Of Something's Gotta Give he complains of "this movie's smugness. It's so pleased to bravely show old folks having fun that it forgets to be genuinely comic, romantic or sexy." Then in his review of Catch and Release (2006), directed by Susannah Grant, he cites Meyers again: "Back when men directed women's pictures, they throbbed with energy ... You might not, in the end, believe them, but boy they were gripping to watch. Directors like Grant or Nancy Meyers (of The Holiday among other titles) want to keep their leading ladies unhysteric, as if descents into the irrational were somehow fuel for sexism." (26)

Snide reviews of her films are aplenty, but any mention of Meyers in film literature is conspicuously absent. David Thomson's The New Biographical Dictionary of Film (re-issued and updated in 2004) is variously described as "the finest reference book ever written about movies." (27) Meyers is not even listed. The back cover blurb for Women Filmmakers: Refocusing claims that it "casts a critical eye on the often-overlooked work of women filmmakers." (28) Again, zero mention of Meyers (presumably because her films are not "overlooked"). 501 Movie Directors: A Comprehensive Guide to the Greatest Filmmakers features an international mix of classic artists, independents, and the occasional box office champion. (29) Over two dozen women directors make the list, as well as box office champs and comedic artists such as Jerry Lewis, John Hughes and Amy Heckerling--but not Meyers. Women Who Run the Show: How a Brilliant and Creative New Generation of Women Stormed Hollywood claims to cover the period from 1973-2000 (2000 was the year Meyers became the most successful female Hollywood director with What Women Want). (30) Here, finally, Meyers does get mentioned--twice--but only in name, and only in reference to passages that focus on Barbra Steisand and Goldie Hawn. For a 480-page book, dedicated exclusively to discussing notable--and successful--Hollywood women, she isn't even deemed worthy of a paragraph mention.

Male directors, on the other hand, don't seem to have this problem. From George Stevens to George Lucas, and from John Huston to John Waters, they are celebrated for all sorts of accomplishments. Even for being awful. Edward D. Wood Jr. has had a staggering amount of books, documentaries and even a big-budget Hollywood feature made about his life and films. But appreciation of women directors--if it exists--is usually limited to those who are deemed to have artistic merit. These exceptions include Sofia Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow who have enjoyed prestigious attention in recent years. Coppola's Lost in Translation (2003) has earned accolades and entry in books such as 501 Must-See Movies, and the award winning film The Hurt Locker (2008) is now guaranteed honour placement for decades to come. (31) Neither film was especially successful of course, but these women are the ones who are commonly championed. Not Meyers.

"I personally don't think either of them is a good filmmaker"

Earlier the statistical data showed the strong performance of films by Mimi Leder, Penny Marshall and Nora Ephron. Like Meyers, these moneymaking directors have also experienced neglect and dismissal at the hands of critics and scholars. (32) Of course Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich have made some of the biggest box office hits of all-time, and they also get the cold shoulder. Judging from this collective dismissive treatment, the perception is that these filmmakers are unworthy of detailed discussion; that they have no artistic merit. For example, when asked what she thought of Meyers and Nora Ephron, New York Times critic Manohla Dargis said, "I personally don't think either of them is a good filmmaker--they make movies for me that are more emotionally satisfying but with barely any aesthetic value at all." (33)

In her review of It's Complicated, Dargis helps explain what she means when she complains "Meyers doesn't have her own visual signature." True, the more celebrated directors have their trademarks. Kubrick has his graceful dolly shots, De Palma his split-screen and slow-motion sequences, Tarantino his car-trunk POVs, Scorsese his restless camera moves, and Sergio Leone his wide-angle close-ups. But Meyers is not interested in calling attention to herself with her camera. She wants the viewer focusing on what is happening inside the frame, not the frame itself. "I've always made movies in a sort of classic form," says Meyers, "the way people have done it for a long time." (34) It's not very sexy, but it serves the story well. Billy Wilder, Frank Capra, Ernst Lubitsch and Howard Hawks did much the same thing when they told similar stories, and nobody complained. Nobody wrote them off as "chick flick" directors either.

Like Meyers, these Hollywood greats (at least that's what many call them now) were simply trying to tell a story of how men and women interact that would elicit sympathy, affection and laughter. It was about dramatizing a human experience that is not exclusive to one sex. And the way they did it was not always easy to spot by the naked eye. As Meyers explains, "I think the best thing to learn from those movies is the pacing and timing." (35) That fan effect from The Apartment is a great example.

What is unique about Meyers' form of romantic comedy is that her characters don't simply meet, fall in love and live happily ever after. They always have responsibilities, commitments, insecurities and logistical roadblocks that won't simply evaporate with a kiss. They are complicated characters because, in real life, we're complicated. Audiences can relate to that--women and men. And, despite these hurdles, viewers can take pleasure in how her characters arrive at a happy ending anyway.

Happy endings have been an important part of the movie-going experience since the beginning of the cinema--surely Meyers experienced it when she sat in the Waverly Theatre a half a century ago--and the way Meyers pulls it off has never been easy. "Writing is a bitch," as she confesses. (36) "Movies don't look hard, but figuring it out, getting the shape of it, getting everybody's character right and having it be funny, make sense and be romantic, it's creating a puzzle." (37)

There is little question Meyers has endeavored to understand why the films of her youth captivated her. She has carefully studied how the elements of writing, casting, set design, costumes, cinematography, music and editing all conspire to make people laugh and feel good. This understanding has since been applied to her own stories. The fingerprints of classic Hollywood are all over her films, but with a contemporary twist which makes them accessible to a new generation.

"Enough already"

It's now been decades that critics, scholars and journalists have been grousing about the lack of women in the film industry. (38) In reaction to this Meyers once replied, "We don't want to be our own niche. We're filmmakers like everybody. How many years in a row are we going to talk about the fact that we make films and we are women? Enough already." (39) Still, many wonder how the so-called "glass ceiling" can be broken. (40) Of course those who are actually breaking it continue to be snubbed, belittled, or outright forgotten. This is not helping. Surely if the canonization of, say, a Leni Riefenstahl can continue, some acknowledgement of Meyers' existence is warranted. (41) At the very least she's an especially useful conduit for discussion and analysis of the classic Hollywood form as she is one of the few filmmakers still harking back to it, giving it a new face and new life.


(1) Silent film star Mary Pickford formed her own production company (The Pickford Film Corporation) in 1916, through which she controlled all aspects of her films' production, from cast and crew selection, approval of scripts, as well as advertising. By 1919 she, along with D. W. Griffith, Charles Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks, created United Artists, which further expanded her power and influence. Meanwhile Nora Ephron has a success rate that closely matches that of Meyers, but most statistical comparisons tend to favour Meyers.

(2) Daphne Merkin, "Can Anybody Make a Movie for Women?" (New York Times, December 20, 2009): web.

(3) Francesca Babb, "Nancy Meyers: The rom-com queen" (The Independent, Film & TV Features, January 9, 2010): web.

(4) Merkin, web.

(5) The numbers are based on domestic (U.S.) results only as worldwide statistics are often incomplete:

(6) Box office statistics derived from Box Office Mojo ( and divided by average (U.S.) ticket prices from the National Association of Theatre Owners (

(7) Amy Dawes, "In the Screening Room: Nancy Meyers" (DGA Quarterly, Summer 2007): web.

(8) Ibid., web.

(9) Ibid., web.

(10) Sheri Linden, "Dialogue With Nancy Meyers, Showest Director Of The Year" (Hollywood Reporter, March 23, 2004): web.

(11) Mollie Gregory, Women Who Run the Show: How a Brilliant and Creative New Generation of Women Stormed Hollywood (St Martin's Press, 2002): 158.

(12) Of the 7,332 features made in Hollywood between 1939 and 1979, women directed only 14. Karin Klenke, Women and Leadership: A Contextual Perspective (Springer Publishing Company, 2004): 119

(13) Elizabeth Guider, "What Nancy Wants" (Variety, November 19, 2006): Web.

(14) Guider, web.

(15) Margy Rochlin, "Out on Her Own Now, and Feeling Liberated" (New York Times, December 10, 2000): 215.

(16) Ibid. web.

(17) Ibid. web.

(18) Dawes, web

(19) Ibid. web.

(20) Twilight, directed by Catherine Hardwicke, has since earned $384,997,808 worldwide, but that figure doesn't take into account higher ticket prices. Based on average U.S. ticket prices for their respective years, Twilight sold 26,848,169 tickets whereas What Women Want sold 33,916,829

(21) Kelli Marshall, "Something's Gotta Give and the classical screwball comedy" (Journal of Popular Film & Television, Volume 37, Number 1 / Spring 2009).

(22) Amy Kaufman, "It's not complicated: Nancy Meyers is a perfectionist" (Los Angeles Times, December 26, 2009): web.

(23) Merkin, web.

(24) Ibid., web.

(25) Richard Schickel, "The Twelve Films Of Christmas" (Time Magazine, December 25, 2000): web.

(26) Richard Schickel, "January: A Movie Wasteland" (Time Magazine, January 26, 2007): web.

(27) David Thomson, The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, (Alfred A. Knopf, 2004): quote from Graham Fuller of Interview Magazine on back cover.

(28) Jacqueline Levitin, Judith Plessis, Valerie Raoul (ed.), Women Filmmakers: Refocusing (UBC Press, 2003): back cover

(29) Steven Jay Schneider (ed.), 501 Movie Directors: A Comprehensive Guide to the Greatest Directors (Quintessence, 2007): 3-5.

(30) Gregory, Women Who Run the Show.

(31) Emma Beare, 501 Must-See Movies (Octopus Publishing, 2004): 111.

(32) David Thomson, in his book The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, had this to say about Nora Ephron (p. 277-8): "Just because she rates as a successful woman in Hollywood is no reason to omit the feeling that she is the director of at least five supine pictures" As for Penny Marshall (p. 581), he claims "She is competent and impersonal--like a tv director--and as such could become a workhorse director for mainstream movies."

(33) Irin Carmon, ""Fuck Them": Times Critic On Hollywood, Women, & Why Romantic Comedies Suck" (, December 14, 2009): Web.

(34) Dawes, web.

(35) Ibid. web.

(36) Babb, web.

(37) Ibid. web.

(38) Manohla Dargis, "Women in the Seats but Not Behind the Camera" (New York Times, December 10, 2009): AR13

(39) Babb, web.

(40) Karina Longworth, "Who Will Lead Female Filmmakers to Parity--Nora Ephron, Nancy Meyers, or Kathryn Bigelow?" (Vanity Fair, December 18, 2009): Web.

(41) The Leni Riefenstahl website ( claims "more than 100 books have been written about Leni Riefenstahl." The site then lists 14 books it considers the "most informative." Presently, none exist for Meyers.

Darryl Wiggers is a film and television consultant who has written for various newspapers, magazines and books, and has helped programmed channels such as Showcase Television, History Television and Super Channel. He was also Director of Programming for SCREAM; the first channel in the world dedicated to horror programming.
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Date:Jun 22, 2010
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