You've Got Mail (1998)

You've Got MailStarring Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Greg Kinnear, Parker Posey, and Dabney Coleman.
Written by Nora and Delia Ephron based on The Shop Around the Corner, screenplay by Samson Raphaelson, and on Parfumerie, a play by Miklós László.
Directed by Nora Ephram.

Grade: B

Review by Carlo Cavagna.

Normally, when they try to "recapture the magic" (and the box office receipts) of a successful film, the result is always inferior to the original. In this case, "they" is the team who brought you Sleepless in Seattle: director and co-author Nora Ephron; stars Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. In this case, however, You've Got Mail is a better film. Sure, the story is not exactly believable, but it's not stretched beyond all limits of credibility, like that of Sleepless, and it doesn't contain an overly-cute precocious child who serves as matchmaker. It does, on the other hand, contain an annoyingly high quantity of product advertisements for American OnLine and Starbucks.

Both Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks are characters trapped in unfulfilling relationships, Meg with self-absorbed newspaper columnist Greg Kinnear and Tom with neurotic social climber Parker Posey, who looks quite out of place in a big Hollywood film. Tom and Meg meet in an AOL chatroom and strike up an anonymous electronic friendship without realizing that they're business rivals. You see, Meg Ryan--or rather, Kathleen Kelly--owns a cute little children's bookstore called "Shop Around the Corner," which happens to be just around the corner from a new Fox Books Superstore. Meanwhile, Tom Hanks plays Joe Fox, of the Fox family who owns the place. Even though she buys her coffee at Starbucks, Kathleen is quite indignant at the intrusion by Big Business and is soon picketing at its doors.

Oh, the shenanigans that this premise could set up! Fortunately Ephram avoids too much wackiness. No flying around the country on a whim and nearly missing one another on the top of a skyscraper like in Sleepless. Instead, Tom Hanks figures out the identity of his prospective romantic partner fairly early in the story and spends the rest of the movie trying to figure out a way around the problem. You've Got Mail is a big budget romantic comedy first and foremost, but it turns out to be a bit more thoughtful than one might expect. Unfortunately, the narrative suffers greatly when the business conflict is removed just over halfway into the movie.

Meg Ryan was, of course, born for roles like Kathleen Kelly. However, she proved that she can act--and act well--in Courage Under Fire and When a Man Loves a Woman, so much so that one begins to suspect that her over-the-top, herky-jerky cuteness is itself a finely crafted performance. Two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks looks a tad long in the tooth for his role, but he delivers a smart and engaging performance. Like it or not, they are, in the words of an overly-enthusiastic reviewer, "the romantic couple of the decade." Now, if I could just shake this compulsion to register for AOL and have a mochaccino.

Review © February 1999 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 1998 Warner Bros.

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