Movie Review: You’ve Got Mail (1998)

Seen: On dvd on my parents’ tv, from my mom’s collection.

Set immovably in the late-90s/early 2000s, a time when big chain stores dominated book retail and everyone used dial-up AOL to get online, You’ve Got Mail is Nora Ephron’s modern-day love letter to romance through the written word. Meg Ryan plays Kathleen Kelly, a hardworking children’s bookstore owner who finds herself swept up in an email correspondence with a well-spoken stranger. Unbeknownst to her, he is Joe Fox (Tom Hanks), an affable millionaire who is the heir to Fox Books, a giant megabookstore that’s opening a new branch just down the street from her shop. When the two meet in real life they clash instantly, but their anonymous online romance deepens.

The quintessential adaptation of Miklos Laszlos’ play Parfumerie will of course always be The Shop Around the Corner, but I must say I do really enjoy this update. It’s been altered enough to be a stand-alone film, but it’s laced with these great little references to the source material and its earlier versions. Ryan and Hanks are both adorable in the lead roles, especially the former, who bubbles over with enthusiasm and righteous indignation and hatred for The Godfather (I could totally relate to her character). Plus I love her super 90s working woman wardrobe with its muted color palette, colored shirts, and big shoes. The whole cast is pretty amazing, with a number of actors who got more famous later. There’s a young Steve Zahn and Heather Burns as Kathleen’s employees, a gloriously pretentious Greg Kinnear as her boyfriend in the beginning of the film, and Parker Posey as Joe’s hilariously self-obsessed girlfriend. One of my favorite things about this movie is that Dave Chappelle is in it, since it’s totally not a place you’d expect him and it’s usually not a movie many of his fans have seen, so it’s great to psych them out when he comes up in conversation and I can say “Oh yeah, Dave Chappelle, of You’ve Got Mail fame?!” Try it out, I recommend it.

Anyway. You’ve Got Mail is just super cute. Sure, it’s already incredibly dated for both its discussion of technology and its focus on chain bookstores taking over the city, but I kind of like that it captures this very specific moment in time. I also love how reverent of books it is, with numerous discussions of literature and the book business. It was cool to see the interior of Kathleen’s shop and recognize several kids titles that we sell at the shop where I work. The whole movie is pretty obsessed with words and writing and I think that’s just great.


Pair This Movie With: Well obviously the aforementioned The Shop Around the Corner would be a nice fit. Or maybe another Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan team-up, either Sleepless in Seattle (which I remember not loving, though it’s been a while) or Joe Versus the Volcano (which is kind of awesomely bizarre). Finallllly there’s Must Love Dogs for another romantic comedy about online dating.

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