You've Got Mail
Rating -

Comedy / Romance (US); 1998; Rated PG; 119 Minutes

Tom Hanks: Joe Fox
Meg Ryan: Kathleen Kelly
Parker Posey: Patricia Eden
Greg Kinnear: Frank Navasky
Jean Stapleton: Birdie

Produced by G. Mac Brown, Dianne Dreyer, Julie Durk, Delia Ephron, Nora Ephron, Donald J. Lee Jr. and Lauren Shuler-Donner; Directed by Nora Ephron; Screenwritten by Samson Raphaelson, Nora Ephron and Delia Ephron

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Written by DAVID KEYES

Life and love are as complex as the Internet. Or so we're told, at least, by Nora Ephron's cheerful and ambitious "You've Got Mail." And what's even more complex is the situation displayed competently in the movie; we meet two lonely book store managers named Joe and Kathleen, played by Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, who are essentially fascinated with the anonymous relationship they have online, but are unaware that they have a not-so-decent relationship in life. It's the kind of lighthearted situation that allows the main characters to interact together in several different ways without feeling obvious or predictable. Online, they are like hopeless romantics, desperate for attention. In life, they're like George and Gracy Burns, Lucy and Ricki Ricardo, or Archie and Edith Bunker. Either way, they're prominently made for each other. In order for them to find out the truth, they have to accept the plot situations just like we do.

But there's something very wrong with this movie, and I can't quite figure out what it is. All the necessary things to make a good heartwarming comedy are intact (the couple, the characters, the chemistry, the Internet, and the book stores, just to mention a few), and yet nothing works quite right. You'd expect a few good laughs to emerge if you put Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks up on the screen (like in "Sleepless In Seattle,"), but what you get here is a couple of measly smiles, and that's it. It certainly has its moments, but seldom do they occur with rhythm, or amusement. The film has no pace to successfully incorporate the humor, and that's a problem, a distraction from the story, which on its own is remarkably likable and amusing.

That's prominently due to Hanks and Ryan, whose work together on "Sleepless And Seattle" and this movie define them as the perfect Hollywood romantic movie couple. In both movies, two different relationships develop between the same characters without their realization of the other. In both movies, the characters are portrayed so charmingly that they make the age-old script seem refreshed and lavish. But we still know it's kinda artificial. The film has no seriousness or impact to the heart or the funny bone. You are definitely charmed by the screen presences, but is that enough to save the script from being absolutely enjoyable? It sure seems like it, but is assuredly isn't.

Tom Hanks stars as Joe Fox, a major bookstore owner whose new shop on the opposite corner of a children's book store heats up a battle between he and the other store manager, Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan). They treat each other like two competing factions in a Saturday morning cartoon: he's like Eboneizer Scrooge and she's like an innocent bystander in his game of greed. Her bookstore creates all the complementary notions that we see in commercials; all the characters know the books, know the customers, know what to recommend, and know how to keep the smiles on their faces.

Meanwhile, at Fox books, Joe sees the whole operation as merely a situation to make profit in a hurry. Everyone reads, yes, and everyone will have that reoccurring urge to go out there and buy a book. If you have a place kept organized like this, you'll wind up spending your money there without even thinking.

The movie is constructed with what you call an 'idiot plot' (not slapstick), and due to its characters, the repetitive notion that all romantic comedies are brainless seems to feel false (sort of). What you have here are two brilliant people in love with each other over the Internet, and around them, a mass of minor people who are equally amusing. One of the best performances in the whole movie comes from Jean Stapleton, who portrays Birdie. When Kathleen tells her about her encounter with this person over the web, she shares her own experience with the online relationship, claiming that once, when she tried having cyber-sex, the line was busy. Here, in print, it doesn't sound that zany, but if you see it you'll know what I mean.

Unfortunately, it isn't enough. I neither laughed as hard or smiled as much as I did with that moment, and so, although the film's characters tip the scale to a positive direction, there's this sappy sense of humor, or lack thereof. The more crucial scenes near the closing, in which the script allows Fox to learn that he is carrying on an online relationship with a woman he hates, are so lacking in both tone and distinctive tranquillity that you feel betrayed, or disappointed, as if the script was over ambitious at this point and became sidetracked with the pace. Revealing the truth to one person without revealing it to the other is indeed a new plot twist for the idiot romance, but apparently that kind of new direction has its own side-effects.

Most of these complaints are minor, but they add up eventually. There's no serious problem that would keep me from recommending the movie, but if you want a more organized, more serious, more humorous and more organic film, watch the similar "Sleepless In Seattle." Both films were directed by Nora Ephron, and she bluntly proves that if lightning indeed strikes in the same place twice, it doesn't strike with much more impact the second time.

1999, David Keyes, Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
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