You’ve Got Mail

Unabashedly sentimental and romantic, “You’ve Got Mail” is the perfect holiday movie. Christmas arrives early this year thanks to director Nora Ephron and the unbeatable pairing of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.

The “Sleepless in Seattle” team polishes off that old chestnut “Shop Around the Corner” and puts a 90’s spin on the story about two people who share a life through letters yet never meet. Working from a light and frothy screenplay by Nora and her sister Delia, Hanks and Ryan couldn’t be more adorable as rival bookstore owners who share kind words over the Internet yet can’t stand each other in real life.

It’s the third pairing of Hanks and Ryan, who first shared the screen in the disastrous “Joe Versus the Volcano.” Their chemistry reached it’s stride in “Sleepless in Seattle,” a remake of “An Affair to Remember.” Judging by “You’ve Got Mail,” this team could create a cottage industry remaking classic romantic comedies.

Hanks and Ryan are a modern day Tracy and Hepburn. They play off of each other so naturally you almost forget they’re acting. It’s this chemistry that makes watching their films so much fun.

Maybe it’s the season, or maybe I was just in the right mood, but I really loved this movie. It punches all the right buttons, evoking a stream of emotions. I laughed, I cried, I found myself rooting these characters on.

Hanks is excellent as third generation book store magnet Joe Fox, whose Fox Bookstores are sweeping the country and putting the mom and pop stores out of business. Joe’s motto is “It’s nothing personal. It’s only business.”

Kathleen Kelly (Ryan) takes it personally when Joe opens one of his mammoth bookstores around the block from her children’s book store “Shop Around the Corner.” Kathleen took over the business from her mother when she died, and the store has been a member of her family for decades. Kathleen even treats her employees like family.

So it’s no surprise when Joe and Kathleen meet they instantly despise each other. Joe represents big business trying to erase small town America. Kathleen represents tradition standing in the way of progress. They may hate each other, but unbeknownst to Joe and Kathleen, they share a very special bond.

Bored with their respective mates, Joe and Kathleen met in an on-line chat room, and have been sharing e-mail ever since. They don’t share their names or specific details, but they do share the same dreams and sensibilities. Face to face they can’t stand each other, which leads to all sorts of wonderful moments where we, the audience, are let in on the joke.

The Ephron sisters do an excellent job of creating anticipation when one or the other, or both of the characters will discover the truth. Who finds out first, and how that character uses the information to their advantage is the highlight of the third act of the film.

Is there any male actor working today more cherished than Tom Hanks? Can this guy do no wrong? With “You’ve Got Mail,” Hanks has delivered two powerhouse performances. “Saving Private Ryan” proved that Hanks’ two Oscar wins for Best Actor were no fluke. “You’ve Got Mail” cements his reputation as one of Hollywood’s most durable leading men.

Even as the fuzzy villain of the film, Hanks is still likeable. You know he deserves Ryan even though he’s shacking up with cold fish book editor Parker Posey. You really root for Ryan to end up with Hanks, even though she’s living with stuffed shirt editorial writer Greg Kinnear.

As Kathleen, Ryan delivers the goods. You honestly feel for her when she realizes that she’s going to lose her shop. How her character regroups is one of the best things about the film, and she literally breaks your heart when she finally checks out the competition.

Jean Stapleton is simply wonderful as Birdie, one of Ryan’s employees who has lead a colorful life. Birdie’s recollections of her time in Spain are one of the film’s highlights. “You’ve Got Mail” is filled with references and observations that help us believe these characters have lived a life longer than the two hours they spend on the screen.

It’s that level of reality that helps ground the storybook romance angle of the film. You just know they’re destined to end up together, but it’s fun to watch and see what roadblocks are thrown in their path.

Thanks to John Lindley’s sumptuous photography and Dan Davis’ exquisite production design, “You’ve Got Mail” distinctly feels like Upper West Side Manhattan. The musical score by George Fenton reminded me of those great 1960’s romantic comedy scores by Henry Mancini.

A great cast, a great script and great direction combine to make, well, a great romantic comedy that manages to exploit the foibles of modern day dating yet maintain it’s sense of nostalgia.



Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Greg Kinnear, Parker Posey, Jean Stapleton, Dabney Coleman, John Randolph, Steve Zahn, and Dave Chappelle in a film directed by Nora Ephron. Rated PG. 116 Min.


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