Women’s History Month: Nancy Meyers

In celebration of Women’s History Month, the all-female team of film critics at FF2 Media were assigned to write about their favorite female artists. Mine is Nancy Meyers.

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The name “Nancy Meyers” has become synonymous with stunning production design and dynamic roles for women of all ages. She was the first woman to direct a live-action Disney film with a theatrical release. Though streaming service Disney+ offers content dating back to the 1930s, Meyers’ The Parent Trap (1998) is the first film in the company’s storied chronology from a female director – and it was her directorial debut, after co-writing several films like Private Benjamin and Baby Boom.

Meyers recently wrote a poignant and funny piece for the New York Times Modern Love column, and remains one of the most fun filmmakers to follow on Instagram, sharing insight, articles and fun memories from her extensive filmography. She’s written and directed films like The Intern (2016), It’s Complicated (2009), The Holiday (2006) and Something’s Gotta Give (2003). Her daughter Hallie Meyers-Shyer recently wrote and directed the endearing romantic comedy Home Again (2017), starring Reese Witherspoon with Meyers serving as executive producer.

But my appreciation for her films dates back to before I was old enough to understand what it took to write and direct movies – before I had an understanding that people actually made films for a living. Long before I was privileged to write for a film website or even realize that I wanted to try making films myself, there was simply the fun of watching something you loved. There was Nancy Meyers. 

It’s not an exaggeration to say that I know The Parent Trap by heart. My sister and I would cross our fingers over our chests and say “good luck.” We would decide which characters we were (I’m a Chessie), and eat Oreos with peanut butter. We’d even pretend to lose our balance at the edge of the pool. You know, normal kid stuff.

Father of the Bride (1991) remains my favorite and most-quoted film. It’s the one I return to most when I need a good laugh or a reminder of how family dynamics can change – and how that’s OK. The “George Banks is saying no!” hot dog scene has involuntarily become my “thing” at family parties or during awkward ice breaker activities. (“Tell us something interesting about yourself!” “Uh, I’m Georgi, I’m a senior communications major, and uh, I wanna buy eight hot dogs and eight hot dog buns to go with them, but no one sells eight hot dog buns…”) 

It’s thanks to this film that I spent hours shooting baskets in my driveway. I know when I own a home of my own, I’ll have its quote framed on the wall: “The thing I like most about this house are the voices I hear when I walk through the door.” Along with its delightful sequel, it taught me the sentimental value of a film, long before I delved into the logistics and impact of filmmaking, before I could spell cinematography or contemplate an act break. You might not think a shy 11-year-old could find anything in common with a middle-aged dad planning his only daughter’s wedding. But I think on some level I related to George Banks’ anxiety – not as a father of a bride, but just as a person who feels things changing, and isn’t quite ready for it.  

When you’re a kid, movies are boiled down to their simplest form: two hours of entertainment. Laughter. Joy. The ones you loved back then remain the same as you age – they hold the same virtue, the same feelings. It is, funnily enough, not complicated. 

Then you grow up a bit and realize that all of those worn-out VHS tapes were made and sit in your living room cabinet because someone wrote down these jokes that you say all the time. It’s a blessing when you grow up enough to realize they were all written by the same person – and how their work has played a role in who you are, without you even realizing it.

BEVERLY HILLS, CA – AUGUST 25: Nancy Meyers at the “Home Again” Press Conference at the Four Seasons Hotel on August 23, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Vera Anderson/WireImage)

At FF2 Media, we are encouraging the support of female filmmakers from our homes, from our couches – and since home is the first place I really found Nancy Meyers movie as a comfort during uncertain times, now is the perfect time to sink back into her prolific work. 

I’m not alone in thinking that. “Nancy Meyers has long celebrated the notion of Being Home, of wrapping yourself in some sort of chemise, sitting on a soft piece of furniture, and drinking a goblet of white wine — often alone, sometimes crying, sometimes just chilling extremely hard,” writes Vulture contributor Rachel Handler in her very funny March 12 piece ‘Let Nancy Meyers Inspire You to Self-Quaratine.’ “That’s basically the thesis undergirding all of her work. Now that we are being encouraged by pandemic experts around the globe to socially distance to avoid millions of preventable coronavirus-related deaths, Nancy Meyers’ filmic philosophy should resonate more than ever before. If you are physically unable to avoid going to public places because you’re on the front lines of this global crisis, we are eternally grateful to you and suggest you relieve your paralyzing stress by watching It’s Complicated several times in a row when you do get home.”

As much as I cherish the opportunity to watch films for a living, remembering Nancy Meyers movies and how they’ve always whisked me away into the lives of interesting women – mostly by making me laugh – has been an upside to this painful time of uncertainty. Her championing of female filmmakers is an added bonus, as I now write for a website that does just that. 

“When I started in 1980, it was very unusual for women to be filmmakers — it just was,” Meyers told aplus.com in 2017 while promoting Home Again. “Mostly we became producers and writers. The idea of a woman directing a movie was far more unique than it is now, but obviously, it has not grown. Women are still directing what, 7 percent of movies? So it’s still a pathetic percentage given how many talented women there are here that want to direct movies.”

She also discussed how Hallie’s generational approach to directing is different – and why that’s inspiring. “Hallie, at 28 or 27 when she was writing the script said, ‘I want to write it and I want to direct it.’ She has more conviction and strength than I had at her age,” Meyers said. “Now, I made my first movie at her age — but I was the writer and producer, I wasn’t also the director. It says something terrific about her generation. They’re not going to wait to be invited to the table.”

It’s become a cliche to say – “I love this writer, I grew up with her work.” But I mean that literally – and it’s only made seeing her films in theaters as a young adult all the more enjoyable. That trademark humor, those beautifully-decorated homes – they all elicit that same sense of comfort. The kind we need right now. 

This Women’s History Month, look back at the movies that made you. Think about the person who made the effort to create them, to make them feel like they belong to you. Send them your thanks, your positive vibes for the art we so desperately need. If all else fails, rent a cottage in the English countryside and blast Mr. Brightside. You’ll feel better. 

© Georgiana E. Presecky (3/14/20) FF2 Media

Where to watch Meyers’ films: Disney Plus – The Parent Trap; Hulu – The Holiday, It’s Complicated, The Intern; Available to rent on iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Prime Video: Father of the Bride Parts I & II, Something’s Gotta Give, Hallie Meyers-Shyer’s Home Again. 

Nancy Meyers and Hallie Meyers-Shyer (Photo credit: Open Road Films)

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