There’s something about falling in love through the written word, and nowadays that means e-mail. Ah, the way one does a happy little jig on discovering an e-mail from some particularly witty pen-pal – especially if romantic. The way one will write sappy, reflective things one would never say face-to-face. The way one gets wrapped around a particular turn of phrase. "You’re right, I hear nothing. Nothing. ‘Not a sound on the city streets just the beat of my own heart’. I think that’s how it goes." Says a giddy Joe quoting a line from Shopgirl’s e-mail. You've Got Mail is a rom-com about all that – with complications thrown on top. Two people, Kathleen and Joe, fall in love through writing each other anonymously on the internet, while in real life, they are horrid to each other on account of Joe (Tom Hanks) being the owner of a big chain bookstore that is putting Kathleen (Meg Ryan) and her little independent bookstore out of business. Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan have a lot of chemistry in this film -- both together and alone. Even watching them typing on a laptop is a joy here. However, this film is not for everyone. People tend to fall into two distinct camps: they adore it or they despise it.
Here is an easy test to determine if you will despise this movie:
(Yes/No) Did you like Tom Hanks in Sleepless in Seattle? Liking him in Saving Private Ryan and the Green Mile doesn't count. You need to have liked him in a romantic comedy.
(Yes/No) Do you like Meg Ryan?
(Yes/No) Do you like romantic comedies?
If you answered No to any of these, you might want to reconsider watching this, unless of course you fell in love on-line, in which case it might make you feel sentimental enough to overcome your natural dislike.
However, if you answered Yes to all three questions, then you will likely ADORE 'You've Got Mail'.
Kathleen: Confession. I have read Pride and Prejudice about 200 times. I get lost in the language, words like thither, mischance and felicity. I'm always in agony over whether Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy will ever get together...
Yes, I love this movie. In fact, I confess that I have watched this movie so many times that I have large chunks of the dialogue memorized. Me, a person who mostly watches artsy, historical or noir foreign films. Go figure. So many lines remind me of fun and funny snapshots in life, love and relationships. "What are you doing? The caviar is a GARNISH!" Yes, yes this is a shallow silly rom-com, that I freely admit. But I think a rom-com has to resound somewhere to be so entertaining. I know, the cynics will roll their eyes and groan:
You don't want to be in love, you want to be in love in a movie. [to quote from Sleepless in Seattle]
Oh, I disagree. Sure, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan are way prettier than the rest of us, but I'd guess anyone who has ever had the pleasure of falling head over heels in love remembers the way one's tongue seems to stop functioning properly, how one for some reason cannot stop foolishly staring at the other person, and then that knot in your throat when you realize this is the person with whom you want to say "for as long as we both shall live". You've Got Mail, in its clichéd, sappy way captures those moments entertainingly well -- for this closet romantic at least.
The songs are one of the great things about You've Got Mail. Here we revisit the way songs were used in Sleepless in Seattle. The particular words in the songs at the song cues are meant to say something about what is going on in a particular scene. Throughout the film, they are as much a part of the screenplay as the dialogue.
Joe: Um, is that you in the photograph? What are you doing?
Kathleen: Twirling. My mother and I used to twirl. Anyway, she left the store to me and I'm going to leave it to my daughter.
Joe: Oh, how old is, um, your daughter now? [out of the corner of his eye]
Kathleen: What? Well I don't have a daughter. Huh?...oh. [a smile and a gulp] No, I'm not married, but eventually.
Ah, she’s in trouble now. And here comes the song cue: "Never smile at a crocodile. No you can't get friendly with a crocodile. Don't be taken in by his wealth and grin..." Where does Nora Ephron find these songs?
There are a number of ideas, or funny topics of conversation, that are also revisited from Sleepless in Seattle. For example, there’s the idea that men and women bond to different types of movies. Remember that scene in Sleepless in Seattle where Sam's sister is crying over an 'Affair to Remember' over the dinner table and her husband mock cries over ‘the Dirty Dozen’. Well, You've Got Mail plays with that idea too, and this time with the Godfather.
Joe's IM: Go to the mattresses. It's from the Godfather. It means you have to go to war.
Kathleen's IM: Oh. What IS it with men and the Godfather? Hello?
Joe's IM: [to himself, Huh? Oh, come on. Hello?] The Godfather is the I-Ching. The Godfather is the sum of all wisdom. The Godfather is the answer to any question. What should I pack for my summer vacation. Leave the gun, take the cannoli...
[and Tom Hanks goes into another one his funny Godfather soliloquies.]
That Fox Books puts The Shop Around the Corner out of business is something many reviewers have commented on. "How can Kathleen forgive Joe so easily for that!!", they cry. Nora Ephron's commentary suggested that she felt it was not so black-and-white. There's a scene where Kathleen finally visits Fox Books. She had consoled herself with the idea that Fox Books is an evil book warehouse. But we see it's not so clear. Kids are enjoying books. But it's heartbreaking. There is really no way she can compete with the glitz, the selection, and the lower prices. I'm mean I hate to admit it, but a well-designed big and glitzy bookstore with a latte bar and deep cushy leather couches sure is a lot of fun to hang out at on a Sunday. Oh, shoot me, but it's the truth.
Nora Ephron also talks about how people tend to say things like "I could never be with someone who [fill in the blank]", but actually what it is that makes you fall in love with someone is a lot more mysterious than a check list of compatible political views, hobbies, musical tastes, and material possessions.
Joe: Hey, he could be the zipper man.
Joe: The zipper man. He repairs zippers on Amsterdam Avenue.
Kathleen: Would you cut it out.
Joe: You'd never have to buy new luggage.
Kathleen: [laughing] Cut it out.
And yes, in the end, Kathleen and Joe get together. But we knew that, didn’t we. And the movie fades to the tune of "Somewhere over the rainbow, skies are blue, and the dreams that you dared to dream... really do come true".
Well, it doesn't get much more sappy that that. Ah, but what a treat.