Film review: You’ve Got Mail (1998), directed by Nora Ephron
I remember seeing You’ve Got Mail at the cinema back in the day, and thinking it was pretty good. Actually, I still think it’s pretty good.
Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) runs a small independent children’s book store in New York City. Her mother opened it some forty years ago, and Kathleen is very passionate about it, as are her employees (Jean Stapleton, Steve Zahn and Heather Burns). They provide a personal service and take a lot of pride in that. When big chain book store Fox Books opens up around the corner, her passion as well as her livelihood is threatened.
Fox Books is owned by three generations of Foxes: grandfather (John Randolph), father (Dabney Coleman) and son Joe (Tom Hanks), all well known for being ruthless business men. When Kathleen meets Joe sparks fly, and not the good kind of sparks either. She hates him and all he stands for.
Meanwhile … Kathleen is an anonymous pen pal with someone online. They discuss anything under the sun, but always keep personal details to a minimum, so they can’t seek each other out. This guy is very sweet and gentle and caring and she ends up falling for him, just as he falls for her. Little do they suspect they are in fact bitter rivals offline. Kathleen’s wonderful pen pal is of course Joe Fox …
Also starring Greg Kinnear as Frank Navasky, Kathleen’s boyfriend; Parker Posey as editor Patricia Eden, Joe’s girlfriend; and Dave Chappelle as Kevin Jackson, Joe’s best friend.
Watching this film a scary 14 (!) years later, obviously times have moved on, technology-wise. The modem beeps now give me pangs of nostalgia, the old OS interface and general clunkiness of laptops make me giggle, but the general “falling in love with an anonymous stranger online” still works. Nowadays, with Facebook, you’re not really anonymous anonymous anymore, but still. It’s all terribly romantic, and that’s what I love about it. Romantic films should end romantically, this one does. (What’s realism got to do with romcoms anyway?)
The theme of big chain crushing small, independent shops is still very much an issue: Tesco killing off the high street, anyone? For the book shops, it’s not so much the chains killing off the independents, as much as online stores killing the offline ones. Amazon is doing great, Waterstones … not so much? (UPDATE August 2021: Although in fairness, they are still going!) Borders folded. These days, you need to be WH Smith or The Works or you won’t be able to compete with places like Amazon.
Anyway. This is not the firs time we’ve seen Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan fall in love, and they do work together. I might not like Joe Fox as he appears as a business man, but inside he’s all cuddly and lovable. Kathleen is … well, the role Meg Ryan seems to be typecast as, but I’m fine with that. I love her as a person and can identify with her. My mum runs a small shop, and even if she doesn’t sell books or is threatened by a big chain or I have any plans of taking it over when she retires (oh gods no), I can really relate.
Maybe it’s the whole pouring your heart out to people online. Used to do that in letters around the time the film came out. Handwritten snailmail ones, but to people I knew from the Internet. It’s a good example of what a lot of us already know: you can get to know people online for who they really are first, whereas offline you might take a shine to someone for the way they present themselves and then you get to know them later – for better or for worse. You can make very long-lasting friendships through the Internet.
Maybe that’s why the film appeals to me so much. Not just because it’s a saccharine, escapist romcom, but because in order to tell the story, it’s using things I am familiar with and care a lot about: books/reading and the Internet.
So even if the film isn’t all that plausible, perhaps, and is a bit dated now and all that stuff, I’m standing by my original view: that I really enjoy You’ve Got Mail, and think it’s a pretty decent piece of film.
4 out of 5 AOL accounts.