Writer-Director Nora Ephron is to waspy New Yorkers what Woody Allen is to Jewish, intellectual New Yorkers. Both explore human relationships and both are infatuated with Manhattan (although Woody Allen has for the past number of years changed locales to Europe). Ephron’s New York is the world of Gershwin where its always autumn or spring and there is a storybook exuberance to the characters and situations. I have a love/hate relationship with Nora Ephron. When she’s on, she’s really on (examples: Silkwood, When Harry Met Sally…, Sleepless in Seattle, Julie & Julia). But when she’s not, she’s downright fucking horrible (examples: Cookie, My Blue Heaven, Mixed Nuts, Michael, Bewitched). In 1988, Ephron found her Diane Keaton when she cast the spunky Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally… The film made Ryan into a huge star and in 1993, Ephron found the perfect match for Ryan in Tom Hanks in Sleepless in Seattle. 5 years later, Ephron reteamed with the couple and came out with You’ve Got Mail. Although it doesn’t succeed as well as Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail still remains a charming, feel-good, and intelligent romantic comedy that makes me wish other writers and directors had half the brain that Nora Ephron has so we can at least have a somewhat bearable romantic comedy genre rather than the dime store trash that the studios seem to put out every month.

I have a bit of history with You’ve Got Mail and it was when I worked for the then-small dotcom company, Hotmail. Word had got around that Nora Ephron was looking to use a popular email service to be featured in her next film. She was seriously considering Hotmail and the company was doing everything it could to win her over. However, America Online was still widely popular across the country and there was nobody who didn’t know the familiar “You’ve Got Mail” jingle. In the end, Ephron decided to go with America Online, which is why the movie is obviously called You’ve Got Mail.

You’ve Got Mail is based on the classic film The Shop Around the Corner and its about a man (Tom Hanks) and a woman (Meg Ryan) who chat online every day via email. They purposely don’t know each others identities and they like to keep it that way. Unbeknownst to them, however, they have much more in common than they think. Ryan runs a small independent children’s bookstore called…wait for it…The Shop Around the Corner, which has been in business for 42 years. Hanks is the head of a retail conglomerate called Fox Books, which is obviously meant to be Barnes & Noble. Fox Books, a big box retail bookstore, has decided to move into the same neighborhood where The Shop Around the Corner is. Ryan is at first unconcerned, but once the big store opens, she is forced to go out of business and, consequently, she develops a hatred for Hanks. As with any romantic comedy, boy and girl eventually resolve their confusions, fall in love, and live happily ever after.

Now had this been my movie, the independent bookstore would not have gone under and the big bad corporate bookstore would have been set on fire by the local residents in an act of protest against the corporation. Unfortunately, however, Meg Ryan’s store does not survive and she falls in love with the man who caused her store to close. All in all, You’ve Got Mail is still a nice story with a good premise that works even better because of the wonderful cast Ephron gathered together for this film. Romantic comedies mainly depend on whether the audience can buy the two lead actors and care whether the couple gets together. If either character is annoying, ugly, or in any way unlikeable, the film falls apart regardless of how great the story may be. You can’t go wrong with actors like Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. I mean how can you NOT like either actor. Tom Hanks is America’s favorite son and Meg Ryan is America’s favorite girl next door. Individually and together, these two actors generate a lot of chemistry and likability. Hanks and Ryan already proved they match well together in Sleepless in Seattle so pairing them again was a no-brainer for You’ve Got Mail. Both actors possess impeccable comic timing and watching them for their second film together is like watching an old, married couple reignite their romance. I’m not one to typically like romantic comedies, but even I found myself being swallowed into the plight of these two individuals and anticipating their eventual hookup.

Surrounding Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan is a equally wonderful supporting cast. Dabney Coleman, who I had not seen in well over a decade (anyone remember the awesome Cloak and Dagger?) plays Hanks’ playboy father. Greg Kinnear, who was still early in his film career, plays Ryan’s intellectually snobby columnist boyfriend. Parker Posey, the indie queen of cinema, is the hilarious, daft bitchy girlfriend of Hanks. Rounding out the cast is Steve Zahn as one of Ryan’s bookstore employees and the great Jean Stapleton. All the supporting characters are fully developed and interesting in their own right instead of merely being placeholders for the lead actors. An equally prominent presence in You’ve Got Mail is the city itself. You can clearly see the love Nora Ephron has for her city and, like Woody Allen, she uses real locations for her settings. Famous restaurants and stores are featured throughout the film, which gives the film an added level of depth and character. And of course, nothing helps set the romantic mood of the movie better than showing NYC in the autumn and the spring, the two best seasons of the year.

You’ve Got Mail is the kind of movie thats guaranteed to lift up your spirits if you’re feeling down without being too saccharin or over-the-top with the romance. Nora Ephron has a reputation for being a sharp and witty writer and it clearly shows in this movie. The banter between the two leads has plenty of choice quotations worthy of jotting down for later use. The dialogue also contains a lot of wonderfully insightful observations about human nature. You don’t have a lot of writers who can pull off this level of dialogue in Hollywood so it makes me grateful that we have writers like Nora Ephron still working today in the industry. If you have never seen this movie, then you should even if you don’t particularly like romantic comedies. You’ve Got Mail stands apart from the typical batch of generic rom coms that women like to drag their boyfriends/husbands to. Sure, its still meant for the female audience, but its one that I think many men will at the very least appreciate. By the way, notice I haven’t said anything about whether the use of the internet feels dated 12 years after the film’s release. To a certain degree, yes it does, which is to be expected, but it doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of the movie. However, I will say that its kind of fun to see the characters get a kick over the concept of email.

Advertisements