You’ve Got Mail

Capri Pant

Zipper fly front with black vinyl stripes waistband and leg opening. Slash pockets with metal studs.

You’ve Got Mail is Nora Ephron’s remake of the 1940 film, The Shop Around the Corner, which CV confesses, with a blush, not to have seen. CV will also confess to being less than an admirer of Ms. Ephron’s last big hit, Sleepless in Seattle.

Those cards on the table, we are happy to report that You’ve Got Mail is an unalloyed delight, a romantic comedy in the long tradition of Hollywood romantic comedies that includes Capra’s It Happened One Night (1934), Cukor’s The Philadelphia Story (1940), Hawks’ His Girl Friday (also 1940), even Woody Allen’s wonderful Annie Hall (1977).

The premise here is a clever one. A couple meet in an internet chat room and proceed to have an extended E-mail correspondence, even as they unknowingly meet in their real lives. She (Meg Ryan) owns a children’s bookstore; his family company is building a discount megabookstore around the corner. Now, Net-izen readers, this is a far fetched coincidence, yes? But we are not dealing with Chekhov or Jane Austen here (though the latter is nicely drawn into the film). This is light, bubbly romance and we willingly suspend disbelief.

The real plus of the premise is that it allows Ephron to deftly explore the nature of electronic communications as the parallel in-person romance develops. A required part of the structure of the genre, conflict, here provided by the business competition, puts our couple at odds with one another, setting up the dramatic tension. At the same time, in their E-mail, they are sharing nicely thought out observations and feelings about how people relate, finding some commonality of values, and getting to like one another.

A friend of CV’s, computer impaired, and whom we suspect of suffering from computer envy, somewhat defensively put out the thought that those who correspond by E-mail are avoiding the give-and-take of real life relationships. Perhaps some are. But lovers or friends at a physical distance from one another have corresponded by snail mail for hundreds of years, have they not? E-mail adds the elements of the ease and nearly instantaneous transmission of messages, which, without doubt, changes the experience. It can be a wonderful supplementary medium for keeping in touch with those we already know, as well as a way of meeting entirely new people, some of whom may remain in the electronic ether, some of whom we bring into our lives in the flesh.

So Ephron keeps us rolling merrily along to see if our charming couple will resolve the in-person conflict and affirm the established E-mail relationship at the next level. It gives her the opening for some very funny material, which CV will not spoil for you by quoting here. (Sadly, Warner Brothers does not use similar restraint at the film’s home page.)

This is also one of those films that is in love with New York City, visually providing beautiful scenes around town and culturally sharing glimpses of such diverse elements as the 91st Street Gardens and Zabar’s, where we get a very funny bit on the bad attitude of New York store clerks. It is also a film that reflects Ephron’s love of movies: The Godfather is a source for a number of good lines.

Tom Hanks provides nice onscreen chemistry with Meg Ryan, and the supporting cast is so good that we wanted more time with all the characters, especially the dotty group that works in Ryan’s store: Jean Stapleton, Steve Zahn, and Heather Burns.

CV left the theater with a big smile.

-Arthur Lazere

San Francisco, CA
Mr. Lazere founded culturevulture.net in 1998 and worked tirelessly to promote its potential as a means for communicating a distinctly personal yet wide-ranging selection of arts reviews. Under his leadership, the site grew in esteem as well as in “circulation", and is well-regarded nationally and internationally as a source for up-to-date, well-written criticism. Arthur passed away on September 30, 2006.