You’ve Got Mail: Hanks and Ryan Do It Again

Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in You've Got Mail. Courtesy of Warner Bros.

You’ve Got Mail manages to reunite writer-director Nora Ephron with both Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan for another romantic comedy.

Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) is a member of the family that runs mega bookstore chain Fox Books.  Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) runs a small independent bookstore, The Shop Around The Corner.  They develop an online relationship after meeting in a chatroom but don’t know that they live in the same Upper West Side neighborhood.  He knows her as “Shopgirl” while she knows him as “NY152.”  None of their correspondence reveals any pertinent information regarding their jobs so they wouldn’t know it even if they tried.

The two clash at the publishing party when Kathleen learns Joe’s business.  This clash is enough that he doesn’t reveal himself as “NY152” when they meet at the restaurant.  Only Joe knows the truth while he doesn’t let her know.  He later decides to build a face-to-face relationship while not divulging his online identity.  It’s not until later on when they meet again that Kathleen wanted Joe to be “NY152.”

Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan are a successful duo when it comes to romantic comedies.  This is their third pairing together and it comes five years after Sleepless in Seattle.  As actors in romantic comedies or movies in general, the duo could have been another coming of Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy.  Although to bee fair, Hepburn and Tracy were a couple–or at least that’s how they were portrayed during their lives.  So what happened to Hanks and Ryan?  The last film the two did together was Meg Ryan’s directorial debut, Ithaca, in 2015 where Hanks’ character is married to Ryan’s but dies in WW2 .  All the great screen couples work on screen because of love.  You can have the silliest plot altogether but the audience needs to buy their chemistry.  Talent is also necessary, too.

New York is as much a character in the film as the cast.  There is something about knowing the people in your neighborhood–even in the Upper West Side.  Joe and Kathleen frequently pass each other on the way to work so it’s only natural that they would develop a relationship.  Sooner rather than later.

A romantic comedy requires chemistry between actors for the film to work.  A good script is also necessary.  What Nora and Delia Ephron do is update The Shop Around the Corner for the digital era.  Or at least how the era looked in the mid-1990s.  Romantic life has a way of adapting to the technology of its day.

The Shop Around the Corner was based on a play, Parfumerie by Miklós László.  Ernst Lubitsch directed the film and if you’re familiar with his work, most of it his films are set in Europe.  He really didn’t make many films in the United States prior to his sudden death in the late 1940s.  True to his European roots, I suppose.  The film would spawn a few remakes, including a Broadway musical.  The film moves away from the Budapest setting and moves it to New York.  In some instances, you have the same scenes almost as verbatim.  One such scene happens when he goes to the window and the friend breaks the news.  This scene is in every single version of the story.  The dialogue barely changes for the film.

Greg Kinnear is in the film because of As Good as It Gets.  Take away the James L. Brooks film and who knows who would be in the role.  Hollywood has a funny way of working.  It’s funny but it’s true.  One thing doesn’t happen without the other.  It’s such a perfect role for Kinnear that you can’t even imagine the film without him.

I’m usually against remakes especially when it comes to classic films.  But in some instances, it can be healthy to update a story for a new era.  Nora and Delia Ephron use the basic premise while giving it a 90s update.  Think what could be done with this premise in the social media era!  I’m getting ahead of myself.  Anyway, Jimmy Stewart is one of the greatest actors of his generation.  It only makes sense to have Tom Hanks in the Stewart role here.  The two-time Oscar winner is one of the greatest Oscar winners in his generation.

DIRECTOR:  Nora Ephron
SCREENWRITERS:  Nora Ephron & Delia Ephron
CAST:  Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Parker Posey, Jean Stapleton, Dave Chappelle, Steve Zahn, Dabney Coleman, and Greg Kinnear

Warner Bros. opened You’ve Got Mail in theaters on December 18, 1998. Grade: 4/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.