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. But even then, being a man, I have problems admitting to myself that I like so-called “chick 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 Lubitsch’ 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 1990s 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’s bookstore that is a real paradise. The few employees are helpful, and they act as a family towards each other. Kathleen loves her work, 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 that is about to open right next to Kathleen’s cozy little boutique. Fox Books might just force her to close down, because even 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 act as a jerk but also be so charming. He is also in a relationship with the wrong person, a 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 flirt 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 beautiful images of New York, and the nostalgic soundtrack (which includes a lot of songs by Harry Nilsson) gives the film an even more romantic feel. 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 pretty 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.