So I watched You’ve Got Mail…
Okay, I know, it isn’t a Thursday but it is Valentine’s Day; and I wanted to mark this Valentine’s Day with a review of my favourite romcom of all time. Now I can’t review You’ve Got Mail without giving it the ‘classic’ title it so richly deserves. So in the spirit of love and all things wonderful, let’s bend the rule just this once and visit one of my favourite love stories.
Okay, basic plot: Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) and Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) are in a semi-romantic online relationship with the pair regularly exchanging emails. Neither one of the pair know the identity of the other with them going by their aliases, Kathleen as ‘Shopgirl’ and Joe as ‘NY152’. The two feel a magnetic attraction to each other, an attraction that begs to spill into the real world despite the fact that both are in significant relationships with other people. Although online lovers, the pair in the real world are business rivals with Joe heading up a chain store that threatens Kathleen’s independent bookstore. Obliviously in love with one another but simultaneously actively hating each other, the chance of lasting romance appears slim.
When I call a film a classic it means that it has met at least two of the three criteria for my definition of the word. First requirement, the film must have stood the test of time i.e. it needs to be at least fifteen years old. Second, it needs to transcend its genre and etch itself into pop-culture and lastly, it needs to be timeless. You need to be able to pick the film up, watch it a year from now, ten years from now, twenty and still appreciate its story. It’s difficult for a film to do two of these things but when it does all three, it’s absolutely masterful.
Before I even begin my in-depth review of this film let’s begin with why it’s a classic (as per my criteria) 1. It’s 19 years old, so it’s stood the test of time. 2. And I think this is the most important point, it’s etched its place into pop-culture. It may not have a treasure trove of quotable one-liners or breathtaking cinematic moments but it accurately predicted the new world order that technology would bring. Online dating is still seen as somewhat a move of desperation but it’s become more and more common place. Technology has not only brought romance but also friendship. I have people who are my friends who I have never met whose friendship is based on the fact that I liked one of their tweets or think that their blog is cool. The script written by Nora and Delia Ephron shows amazing insight into the way technology would shape the world. 3. The film’s a good old fashioned love story and those never get old because love is a commodity the world is forever running short of.
I consider this film to be three separate films occurring simultaneously and symbiotically. The first is the love story between ‘Shopgirl’ and ‘NY152’; the second, the business rivalry between Kathleen and Joe and the third, the coalescence of the two previously mentioned films. With the first love story you have the untainted, wholesome idea of love that stems from personal connection free of pretense. The second provides the tried-and-tested “opposites attract” love story which is a staple of many a romcom. The third – and perhaps my favourite – love story begins in the final third of the film and shows how the two characters marry their secret identities to their online personalities.
I love this film in its entirety but its during the final third that it truly shines. I still remember the first time I watched this film and thinking how different its final phase was. The movie starts afresh and breaks into a gallop where most most films struggle into a canter to the finish. This is the third time that Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan team up and they are my favourite romcom pairing (only slightly beating out Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally). This is also the second time that the two are paired with Nora Ephron in the director’s chair and on the screenwriting team, with the first being in Sleepless in Seattle. One of my major problems in that film was the lack of shared screentime between Hanks and Ryan because I truly think their chemistry and on-screen bond is one of the best I’ve ever seen.
Luckily, You’ve Got Mail doesn’t have this problem. Hanks and Ryan’s characters are almost in constant contact. There’s the real life interactions as they square off in business but their greatest parts together are – ironically – when they have no shared screentime. Allow me to explain the paradox. ‘Shopgirl’ and ‘NY152’ are in constant correspondence by email and these emails are beautifully narrated by Ryan and Hanks respectively. The two manage to turn words in an email into sparkling conversation. The emails are never instant with one character sending one and having to wait for the reply. Though Hanks and Ryan infuse so much emotion and charm into their narration that it feels like a conversation happening right in front of you.
Overall, I can’t run out of ways to praise this movie. It’s the perfect romcom, in my opinion; the best ever made and I haven’t watched a romcom that comes even close. It has a powerful cast and dares to take on an extended runtime to allow its story to truly flourish. It’s a film that leaves me in tears and a state for several days after viewing it and one of those movies I can’t go a year without watching. It deserves watching, especially on a day dedicated to expressing love. Oh and Happy Valentine’s Day, I hope you’re spending it with someone special.