Director: Nora Ephron | Runtime: 1hr 59mins | Comedy, Romance
Joe Fox & Kathleen Kelly (Tom Hanks & Meg Ryan) have been messaging for sometime, getting to know each other without any personal details. In the meantime, Kathleen’s small children’s bookstore comes under threat from a large chain called Fox Books as they open a new venture right around the corner, and Joe soon realises who his mystery girl is.
Back in the late 1990’s there was optimistic, almost utopian view on what the internet was and the future it would hold – little did anyone know we’d have the trash fire of Twitter, Facebook and plethora of other sites. It does have it’s good corners, but when Nora Ephron was writing the screenplay for You’ve Got Mail there was a far nicer and simple look on the world wide connections. This is her second outing writing and directing a RomCom starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, the first being Sleepless In Seattle (1993) – unbelievably sweet, incredibly engaging chemistry between the leads and a compelling story despite the lack of depth, the trio brings some of that to their 1998 reconnection, though with a stranger final product.
The most notable aspect watching You’ve Got Mail in this century is how poorly the initial concept has aged. It’s not inherently a bad thing, there are plenty of classic films that require an essential component that isn’t relevant anymore, but here there isn’t a whole lot more to the story outside the summary mentioned above. It does share some similarities to Sleepless In Seattle but the payoffs come across completely different, in this case it’s quite bizarre and doesn’t feel earned but still has a strange sense of heart and affection.
Part of the strange sincerity that isn’t sincere harks back to the simplicity of the story – by having two characters that don’t know each other interacting in a way that shows fantastic chemistry has us look pass the ridiculous setup for the rest of their relationship, including the absurd coincidental montage of how close they get to bumping into each other multiple times. It’s not just the writing that makes this work, and if it wasn’t for the pure joy of Hanks and Ryan as a duo it wouldn’t work either.
It’s not exactly new ground covered, especially in the Rom Com genre, but having the two characters dislike each other at first works surprisingly well here, the juxtaposition of being so well suited with their anonymous online personas just puts the question in our head of when the penny will drop, and when will they just fall in love with each other.
If you were to use rose tinted glasses, it is kind of sweet, but it can’t be denied he is borderline stalker for almost half the runtime.
As sweet as the nicest are, you can’t help but think Joe Fox is a complete creep. He repeatedly lies to Kathleen, he knows their relationship well before she does without telling her and uses this information to manipulate the situation in his favour. If you were to use rose tinted glasses, it is kind of sweet, but it can’t be denied he is borderline stalker for almost half the runtime.
Joe is also incredibly rude on a few occasions. It’s another strange aspect, it could be seen as an adult version of the playground view of being mean to the girl you like, so she doesn’t know you like her, but there’s two scenes in specific that remove a layer of sweet heart at the centre of the narrative; when Joe meets Kathleen in the cafe and realises she’s his online crush and pretends he is just passing, then teasing her for being stood up. Not just that, she repeatedly asks him to leave (“Please leave. Please, please leave, I beg you.”) and doesn’t – it all starts to ring alarm bells. After she realises who he is, she assumes he’s a spy scoping out her store trying to put her out of business. Joe’s response is one of ridicule as he mocks the low sales her little shop has since his new one opened. For a film that has sweetness oozing at the seams there are many moments that probably have more callous bite than intended.
Both Joe and Kathleen are surrounded by a host of one dimensional characters to compliment their narrative – however, this isn’t as negative as it first may seem. They’re all bubbly in their own way (especially in Kathleen’s shop – potentially the reason she went out of business wasn’t a superstore opening near but instead hiring more staff than customers) who only seem to push the pair together. They’re just small pieces that add up to the many niceties of You’ve Got Mail.
Though Joe’s behaviour is questionable, everyone watching still wants to see them end up together – it just feels like the right thing to do. There’s only really two reasons why people keep coming back to this film, the incredible chemistry between Hanks and Ryan, and the sugary sweet script that bursts with cheesy cliches but in the most entertaining way. Does the final line Kathleen says to Joe make any sense? Not really. Is there much of a story? Certainly not. Do we care? Not really.