You’ve Got Mail 1998 ***

Back to 1998, and the early days of the modish fad that was known as ‘the internet’; even the title You’ve Got Mail dates the film, since I can’t remember the last time I actually saw these words on a computer or phone. We know we have mail, we have mail constantly, and we don’t need reminders, so it’s quite surprising when the characters wax lyrical about how excited they get about the novel concept of email.

Nora Ephron’s remake of Ernst Lubitsch’s The Shop Around the Corner doesn’t say too much about the online world; one of the curiosities here is that Kathleen (Meg Ryan) and Joe (Tom Hanks ) seem to be the only people in New York who have access to the internet. They’ve been emailing after stumbling across each other in a chat-room, not realising that they were also crossing paths in business. Kathleen is trying to keep her mother’s children’s bookshop from going bust, while Joe’s family have a big-box book superstore that’s soaking up all her business. Can the couple put aside their antagonism and recognise that their online interaction presents a romantic route forward?

Ephron was something of a rom-com master after the success of Sleepless in Seattle, and You’ve Got Mail has a similar classical feel; old standards on the soundtrack, precious few pratfalls and little slapstick, but meticulous depiction of character through clothes, soft-furnishings and monologues; she’s ditzy, insecure but determined, he’s smart and gets on well with everyone. But their collision course, as predicated by their different experiences of entrepreneurial bookselling, isn’t fully resolved; there’s no Garry Marshall-style big finish, just two people shedding their bad relationships and taking tentative steps towards a good one. As it stands, there’s barely a second in this film where Ryan’s character knows what’s happening, and Joe’s manipulations go on far too long. As always, rom-coms are so preoccupied with creating obstacles to relationships that they never consider what a relationship might actually be like.

If the ending isn’t satisfactory, the build-up is, with Hanks and Ryan both extremely likeable in a sugar-sweet confection ideally suited to their talents. Of course, the novelty of the internet didn’t last long before it became an all-pervasive, yet unexceptional add-on to life’s stresses. But the notion of the city streets being lost to small-businesses is bang-on; corporate stores which close down all the competition before vanishing due to megre profit margins, have been a problem ever since, and Ephron’s critique of modern living has an unexpected resonance as the world’s businesses shrink around us in 2020.


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  1. Always one of those films you’re frightened to go back to in case it loses its charm or you are at that stage when you’ve found Ryan more annoying than cute. But you’re right, it does resonate in today’s business world. How many small bookshops went out of business with the advent of the book superstore God alone knows.

    • And there’s no suggestion here that the internet will destroy both large and small bookstores, which is what happened. Kind of nice to see the net presented as a way of bringing people together rather than setting us against each other…

  2. Man, I got dragged to the theatre . . . and loved it. The chemistry in this can’t be denied.

    • Ending aside, I really dug this, and can’t argue with these stars. I guess I did want a Hollywood ending, and to understand how their business feud would be ended, butas a package, this is easy to recommend to fans of the genre and the stars.

  3. Barnes&Noble tried the “take over all the small book stores or run them out of business” and it worked, for a time. Now they’re the ones on the ropes and I for one hope they suffer a lot…

    • It’s like supermarkets that end up closing all the nearby shops. When the super-market moves away, there’s nothing left. I guess we’ve all got other problems right now, but the lack of actual shops to visit may be a real problem moving forwards, and we may well regret not cherishing our vendors.

  4. Definitely a classic in this genre, but I have to agree with Fraggle, I also preferred Sleepless in Seatle as the better film. Still this one does have it’s moments, no denying that 😊

    • Agreed, Sleepless is much better, and probably the reason this one is overlooked. They’re good in Joe vs the Volcano too!

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