I’m such a chick sometimes… I’m a total sucker for romantic comedies. I also love big dumb action flicks, raunchy comedies and gritty dramas, but I still have a soft spot for love stories. I adore “Say Anything”, “Forget Paris”, “City of Angels”, “Jerry Maguire”, “As Good as it Gets”, “Peggy Sue Got Married” and the list goes on and on. But even then, being a man, I have problems admitting to myself that I like girlie flicks, so when “You’ve Got Mail” came out, I didn’t go see it. What a mistake! This is the most heartwarming movie I’ve seen in quite a while, and it’s also surprisingly clever.
The film is a remake of the classic “The Shop Around the Corner”. I haven’t seen that one, but I’m convinced that Ernst Lubitsh’ 1940 film shares only the basic plot of this new version, which is as contemporary as it gets. It’s set in the Upper West Side of late 90s New York City, in an idealized Hollywood version of it at least. The people are neighborly and nice, the weather is great, everything looks gorgeous… Smog, hobos, noise and crime have all magically disappeared! Some critics were ticked off by this unrealistic vision, but I think it’s necessary to set the romantic mood of the film. We meet Kathleen Kelly, who’s played by the impossibly cute and downright lovable Meg Ryan. She’s the owner of an independent children bookstore which is a real paradise. The few employees are helpful, and they act as a family towards each other. Kathleen loves her work, and she loves her customers, and she does everything she can to make sure they leave smiling. Her personal life is not quite as dreamy. She goes out with a man she doesn’t really love, a self-centered newspaper columnist (Greg Kinnear) who’s his own biggest fan. But her loneliness is replaced by hope thanks to the relation she has by e-mail with a wonderful man.
The irony is that this anonymous Mr. Right is actually Joe Fox, the owner of the huge bookstore which is about to open right next to Kathleen’s cozy little boutique. Fox Bookstores might just as well force her to close down since, though it doesn’t have the warmth and the literary expertise of her store, this Barnes & Nobles-style book supermarket does have discount prices, a huge selection, thousands of square feet to wander through as well as couches and cappuccinos for its customers. I like how the film doesn’t restraint the character of Fox to being the bad guy. We get to understand that he’s just doing business, and that in private, he is really the wonderful man who writes to Kathleen through the Internet. Fox is interpreted by the always enjoyable Tom Hanks, who can be a jerk but also so charming. He is also in a relation with the wrong person, a dimwitted yuppie editor (Parker Posey), and he too finds hope with his electronic pen pal.
The movie cleverly has the two leads bitching at each other in person but unknowingly flirting through e-mail. “You’ve Got Mail” was written and directed by Nora Ephron, who penned “When Harry Met Sally” and directed “Sleepless With Seattle”, also with the unique screen duo of Hanks and Ryan. Like her other work, this new film is full of grand feelings like love and hope, but it also has the good sense of not being too mushy. The dialogue is sharp and funny (often thanks to the hilarious Dave Chappelle, who has a small part as Hanks’ buddy), and the movie is sometimes even cynical. But not too much: this is a romantic comedy, after all. It’s set against some of the most beautiful images of New York since Woody Allen’s “Manhattan”, and the nostalgic soundtrack (which includes a lot of good songs from Harry Nilsson) gives the film an even more romantic feel. I could have done without the product placement (America Online, Starbucks…), but there isn’t much you can do to avoid it in Hollywood these days. And when Hanks realizes that his business opponent is in fact his e-mail sweetheart, and he tries to make up for the bad things he did, the movie gets soooo moving! Yes, “You’ve Got Mail” isn’t strikingly profound or groundbreaking, but it’s one of these movies that just make you feel real good. That’s oughta be something great, right?