Saturday, 30 January 2021

Movie Review: You've Got Mail (1998)

A romantic comedy with would-be lovers on either side of the corporate fence, You've Got Mail delves into the emerging online world to update a story of virtual friends and real-world foes.

Using the online pseudonyms Shopgirl and NY152, New Yorkers Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) and Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) correspond through daily emails, having met in a chat room. In the real world Kathleen owns a small children's bookstore she inherited from her mother, and is in a relationship with newspaper columnist Frank (Greg Kinnear). Joe runs the giant Fox Books megastore discount chain and is romantically attached to book publisher Patricia (Parker Posey).

With Joe about to open a new Fox Books location and drive Kathleen's store out of business, they meet and she shuns him as a heartless businessman. Meanwhile their daily emails develop into a deep friendship, until Joe discovers that his online soulmate is also his real world nemesis. He has to find a way to turn a digital romance into a true love affair.

Updating 1940's The Shop Around The Corner and taking advantage of emerging social media trends, You've Got Mail pulls off the far-fetched central premise with practised ease. Director Nora Ephron co-wrote the script with her sister Delia, and reunites with Hanks and Ryan from the 1993 hit Sleepless In Seattle. The pre-established chemistry is evident and helps navigate the bumpy patches, especially a rather prolonged final act.

The dichotomy between real-world sparring and on-line friendship drives the narrative. Ephron establishes Kathleen and Joe's physical proximity early: they navigate the same streets everyday, oblivious to each other and their digital friendship, virtually connected in a practically disconnected world. The difference in their behaviour is stark. Benefitting from on-line anonymity and a "no telling details" rule, the emails represent their truer selves, full of honesty and self-doubt. In person Kathleen's shield goes up and she understandably rails at Joe's corporateness before giving herself a chance to know him as a person.

A sparkling New York is scrubbed clean and serves as a typically idyllic rom-com backdrop. Consistent with the small store/big corporation conflict, Ephron allows street-level businesses to provide the city's heartbeat, scenes of shutters opening to start the day serving as the source of streetscape vibrancy.

Hanks and Ryan radiate star power and next-door genuineness. Although Ephron at times appears to encourage theatrically ditzy performances from both, they settle down and excel in two separate modes: in-person clashes and behind-the-keyboard narration.

Meanwhile the edges of the story are kept busy, with a strong but over-elaborate supporting cast. In addition to a funny and hyper Parker Posey as his girlfriend, Joe Fox is surrounded by a best friend (Dave Chapelle), as well as a father (Dabney Coleman) and a grandfather who both have young children. Greg Kinnear's caustic newspaper opinionist is a good match for Kathleen, and she also has three store employees (Jean Stapleton, Steve Zahn and Heather Burns) to worry about. Unsurprisingly, several of the side-characters fade away or are just unceremoniously dropped due to crowding.

But despite some well-intended bloat, You've Got Mail succeeds in parsing togetherness apart, and delivers a breezy romance.



All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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