April 1, 2019

You've Got Mail (1998)
Grade: 42/100

Director: Nora Ephron
Stars: Meg Ryan, Tom Hanks, Greg Kinnear

What it's about. A loose remake of the 1940 classic romance The Shop Around the Corner (1940). If you are male, like myself, you may have difficulty keeping track of all of the many supporting roles in this cutesy romantic comedy. Here are the first two that matter: Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan are the romantic leads, destined to end up together like Elizabeth and Darcy in Ryan's favorite novel, "Pride and Prejudice."

This means that they will be at odds with other for most of the movie, but final reel manipulations by writer/director Nora Ephron remove all complications to ensure that Hanks and Ryan end up in each other's arms, much as they did five years earlier in Ephron's equally insufferable Sleepless in Seattle.

This means that Hanks and Ryan must be separated from their initial live-in lovers that aren't quite right for them. Parker Posey, Hanks' bedmate, is satisfactorily cute and amusing but ultimately too shallow. Greg Kinnear, Ryan's squeeze, is adorable (from the feminine perspective) but in the end, also lacks the great soulful depth that our two leads obviously possess, given their great eloquence in their email love letters to each other.

Meg Ryan owns a small children's bookshop in the East Side of New York, founded by her late mother long ago. She has three employees: Edith Bunker, er, Jean Stapleton, the bookkeeper; Heather Burns, the unbelievably hot but somehow apparently romantically unattached salesclerk; and Steve Zahn, a dufus who also clerks in the shop and must be gay, since he apparently has never made any advance toward Burns.

Tom Hanks is the wealthy scion of a bookseller corporate chain. His robber baron father is Dabney Coleman, whose father John Randolph is also around and presumably the business founder. Coleman and Randolph like to regularly trade in wives for younger models, thus Coleman is engaged to Cara Seymour, the mother of adorable tyke Jeffrey Scaperrotta, while Randolph is the father of adorable tyke Hallee Hirsh. So, Hirsh and Scapperotta are technically respectively Hanks' aunt and nephew, the source of much allegedly witty bookstore banter.

Dave Chappelle is the token black and Hanks' best buddy/second banana worker. Chappelle unfortunately doesn't get much screen time, but this is to be expected when Hanks is the lead.

Anyway, online philanderers Hanks and Ryan nightly exchange profound e-mails, each individually worthy of a Pulitzer Prize. But they don't know the other's real-life identity. Though, because it is a movie, they encounter each other fairly often, and exchange insults since Hanks' new book store, down the street from Ryan's, is relentlessly putting Ryan out of business.

But Hanks, in the Darcy role, perseveres to win over the reluctant but romanceable Ryan. After all, he's rich. And cute. And deep. And, let's be honest, Ryan isn't getting any younger.

How others will see it. You've Got Mail was surprisingly costly for a 1998 movie without special effects. The production spent 65M, much of which presumably went into the pockets of our two leads. Fortunately for Warner Bros., it was a box office smash, with a worldwide gross of 250M, excluding video rentals and sales.

Ryan did squeeze out a Best Actress Golden Globe nomination. Though, given the film's commercial clout, the numerous other festival trophies were second tier, such as Ryan's win as Favorite Movie Actress at the Kids' Choice Awards.

Today at imdb.com, the movie has a big 175K user votes. The user ratings are a bit mixed at 6.6 out of 10. Predictably, women grade it higher, 6.9 versus 6.5, a spread that is actually smaller than I anticipated. But men have a greater tolerance for Tom Hanks in such roles than they would have given, for example, Ben Affleck.

The user reviews are generally positive ("chemistry, likeable characters make this film work") with the expected salting of haters ("two hours of my life I won't get back").

How I felt about it. It's a pretty good cast. Except, perhaps, Greg Kinnear, who has been in many romantic comedies, none of which are as watchable as their critical reputation or commercial success might imply.

But despite the nearly continuous presence of All-American good guy Tom Hanks, You've Got Mail is a tough slog for males to endure. One has to wonder, why doesn't Hanks drop the mettlesome Ryan for the younger, hotter, and nicer Heather Burns. Answer: Ryan is a proven box office draw. But she needs a better hair stylist. Here, she looks like Luke Skywalker.