You've Got Mail, a Review
A 1998 Romantic Comedy to watch in Quarantine. Written by Nora Ephron and Delia Ephron and Directed by Nora Ephron. Starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.
You’ve Got Mail follows two individuals who meet in an anonymous AOL chat room. Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) is a book lover who inherited her indie children’s book shop and Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) is a business man who is building a large indigo-like bookshop just around the corner from her.
IMDB calls them business rivals, but really, Hanks is the only stereotypical business person. Ryan is something much more than that. Much more true, loyal. Without realizing it they fall in love via this chatroom and end up despising each other in real life.
I don’t like IMDB’s summary of it because I’d rather not categorize both of these characters as business rivals. Kathleen is hardly running a business. She is building a community. A community of loyal customers, as she would put it. What business should be.
The attraction to this film in 2020, has only somewhat to do with its nostalgia-factor. In the culture we live in today, we are obsessed with looking back at our lives and our parents lives and thinking to ourselves ‘wow, if only life could be so simple again.’ Today, while different from how it was perceived when it was released, the film does that for us.
Joe Fox is the owner and operator of Fox and Sons Books which is the entity, threatening our protagonist.
Greg Kinnear, who plays Frank Navasky, Ryan’s boyfriend, brings a unique, but very really layer to the plot - a kind luddistic thinking that would have been extremely prevalent at the time of yahoo and AOL. Today however, it is nice to look back on the 90’s way of doing things: Typewriters, AOL Email, Indie bookstores, Film — and then just smiling at it. It makes us feel comfortable.
At the time of its release there may have been a different reaction to the film’s plot. However, the appeal of You’ve Got Mail has nothing to do with the internet. I am on the internet all of time (unlike these characters who feel its something they need to hide from their significant others). In fact, it has everything to do with the characters, their personalities, their actions, how lovable they are and how much they express that love to one another. Even if they don’t realize who they are expressing it to. The 90’s culture of ‘the faceless internet’ adds a layer of anonymity to the characters relationship. An anonymity that we could not get today if the film were to be re-produced.
In fact, if this film were to be re-produced today, you’d probably just end up with You (Netflix) which is a commentary on the predatory horrors of social media. Social media has made it so easy and rather desirable to see the other person’s face all of the time. Seeing this film encourages me to ask myself, ‘what happened to privacy?’…. but that’s a topic for an essay … And I don’t write those anymore.
You’ve Got Mail reminds us of how much value there is in being with an actual person in a coffee shop and just enjoying them for them and not the porn that we have open in the other window.
Speaking of personality’s, Meg Ryan graces us with her effervescent and joyful presence on the screen. She brings a lovability to the female character that even I want to be. And I’m a dude. I’m not in her world but after 2hrs of watching her dance around the screen, smile, laugh, and be clumsy, I have to admit that I think I love her. I need a Kathleen Kelly in my life and after one viewing of this film, you will too.
Hanks, brings his stature, calmness, and usual self to the screen alongside her, but sorry Tom, this movie isn’t about you.
As far as I am concerned, there is only a small handful of problems with this film — there really isn’t a traditional villain. The biggest villain is the presence of the Fox Book Store. And sure, Joe Fox (Hanks) intends on putting small bookstores out of business but, I also believe that he doesn’t want anything bad to happen to his Shopgirl (the username that Ryan’s character writes under). I look at the way in which their characters are introduced. While Kathleen is introduced first (an easy indicator that she is the main character who will grow the most), Fox is introduced almost immediately afterwards in a very similar fashion. And in a non-threatening way. And when Fox realizes that she is his Shopgirl, his own inner conflict becomes apparent and he soon refocuses on a new objective. This tells me right off the bat that they are both going to learn in very real ways. Love triumphs all. It wins against evil every time.
I would have to say, though, that the burning question of ‘will they end up together’ is what keeps us watching. And even though we are pretty certain they will (cause its warner bros) we still watch it until the end.
Furthermore, throughout the film Kathleen repeatedly reminds him of how terrible he is and yet, at night, returns to her computer and sends this so-called mystery man (in fact its Hanks) another lovely email. Which is a dynamic that I enjoyed.
These emails are the crux of the film and while it is a lovely experience going inside the mind of the characters, overusing Voice Over to the point of depending on it is a copout and generally an indication of bad screenwriting. But this film is an exception to the rule in many respects. Sometimes, I did wish they showed a little bit more.
And yet, while the conflict is not the riskiest, scariest thing for us to witness, it is still one of the most enjoyable Rom-Coms I have ever seen. And that is saying something.
This film comments on the nature of true love and how it can be found anywhere, any time. It puts two characters in a situation who surely love each other more than they can imagine, inseparably, and pits them against each other in a unique turnaround way.
Watching You’ve Got Mail is so much fun, it makes you smile and fall in love with characters just because of how they are by themselves. It puts them in their element and takes them out of it. It navigates their worlds and puts them on a collision course. What a wonderful way to spend 2hrs — smiling, crying, and falling in love again with life.
If you are in the mood for a nice film on a Saturday night with a good friend or significant other, I would suggest taking a gander at You’ve Got Mail. But don’t make-out without pausing. You’ll miss the best part. Sex can wait. Trust me.
8/10 would watch again.
Thank you to Netflix for reviving this forgotten comedy and putting it on your platform.