Best known for her successful screenwriting and directing, including The Parent Trap (1998), Something’s Gotta Give (2003), The Holiday (2006), It’s Complicated (2009) and The Intern (2015). Nancy Meyers’ second directorial effort, What Women Want (2000), was at one point the most successful film ever directed by a woman, taking in $183 million in the U.S.
What’s it say about women in film that the highest-grossing female director has only done four films? Yep! Probably long ago passing up indie gals like Gillian Armstrong and Amy Heckerling, and this year cruising past Penny Marshall, Nancy Meyers is directora numera una.
What with only four films, it’s probably not surprising that you haven’t heard of Nancy Meyers — even though she’s knocked it out of the park with all four. Think about it! What director has ever batted a thousand with his first four films (other than John Hughes)?
She’s not an overnight sensation. Technically, she’s not a sensation at all, since you haven’t heard of her. Meyers’ first effort at screenwriting was in 1980, and was a big hit, too. Along with Charles Shyer, whom she would eventually marry, Meyers struck gold with Goldie Hawn, penning “Private Benjamin“. She then wrote and produced the comedy “Irreconcilable Differences“, which Shyer directed. It was just okay, but Drew Barrymore (and maybe Shelley Long, too) was brilliant.
“Baby Boom“, which would not be the last time Meyers would bullseye the pulse of the movie-going boomers, was the next hit for Meyers and Shyer. This time, Shyer showed better directorial choices, and the film, which reflected the American work/mom dilemma, did gangbusters. “Father of the Bride”, starring Steve Martin and Diane Keaton, which came next, was successful enough for a sequel.
Venturing a little too far away from light comedies, they missed the boat with a comedy mystery, “Once Upon a Crime”. Then, Meyers and Shyer got into trouble with the action comedy “I Love Trouble”, with Nick Nolte and Julia Roberts. They dealt with their failures by getting married.
But, because of irreconcilable differences, the team separated soon afterward. Well, actually, they remained a professional team, just not a marital one. And, it was Meyers’ turn for the director’s chair.
“The Parent Trap”, Meyers’ directorial debut, reflects her exquisite timing, both in the writing and directing, and in grabbing Lindsay Lohan at the perfect age. Still Lohan’s best performance(s) as twins separated at birth, it’s hard to believe that there is just one of her. The casting is perfect, too, in the vital supporting roles. We love the mini-subplot of the maid and the butler, and we love to hate the “other woman”, the gold-digging beauty, Elaine Hendrix. Also, we don’t just want, we need Dennis Quaid and Natasha Richardson to get back together. This is the essence of romantic comedy, and, this is Meyers’ specialty.
“What Women Want”, Meyers’ next film, a high-concept piece that gives Mel Gibson the ability to hear women’s thoughts, smartly put the “romantic” in the back seat and let the “comedy” do the work: macho Gibson’s trying on pantyhose; really listening to the women’s thoughts; becoming liberated. And, the overriding comic shtick also conveniently provides one of the themes: women aren’t thinking what you think they are thinking. Gibson and Helen Hunt aren’t that great together and one can’t help but wonder if their scenes together were chopped for more comedy.
“Something’s Gotta Give”, though not as tightly written as “What Women Want”, and certainly not as well cast in the minor parts (e.g. Keanu Reeves), was good enough to win Diane Keaton a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination. Coming sixteen years after Keaton’s turn in “Baby Boom”, it is like a spiritual sequel, appealing to the women (predominantly, of course) who were then coming to terms with their careers and are now, as brilliantly reflected by Keaton, past being moms and wanting careers and are ready for true “middle-aged” romance, even though they may not even know it.
With “The Holiday”, Meyers really shows she’s got the chops. Writing, directing and producing the film, her touch with romantic comedy is smoother, more eloquent, and more fully realized. Her gift for casting, too, is perfect. The strange mix of Jude Law and Cameron Diaz on one continent and Kate Winslet and Jack Black on the other is just scrumptious.
Meyers’ directorial work, along with some of her better screenplays, show a recurring theme that, because of her skill in writing, doesn’t really hit you until you look at the whole line-up at once. Her films are about women going after what they need, want and deserve — whether it’s Diane Keaton juggling motherhood and a career; Richardson basically forced to do the same thing, choosing to mess up a perfectly good arrangement with a great career but only half of her children; Helen Hunt and Mel Gibson coming to terms with each other and their careers; or Drew Barrymore as a child divorcing her parents.
Clearly, Nancy Meyers writes and shoots what she knows. And she does it with crisp dialogue, catchy premises, brilliant casting, simple straightforward storytelling in her shots, and a knack for romantic comedy. That’s what it takes to bat a thousand.
— Nate Lee
Nancy Meyers’s directing credits include…
|1998||The Parent Trap|
|2000||What Women Want|
|2003||Something’s Gotta Give|