You've Got Mail
(US 1999)

Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Parker Posey, Greg Kinnear, Jean Stapleton

Director: Nora Ephron

Writing credits: Nora Ephron, Delia Ephron, Miklós László ( play, Parfumerie), Samson Raphaelson (The Shop Around the Corner)

Warner Brothers * 119 minutes

Nora Ephron's two-hour paean to America Online, YOU'VE GOT MAIL, brings an entirely new dimension to the notion of product placement, as well as reconfirming that all script references to any selection from Joni Mitchell's BLUE album should be immediately excised under penalty of law.

If you needed further confirmation that the world is just moving too fast, YOU'VE GOT MAIL is essentially a remake of SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE as well as of Ernst Lubitsch's 1940 fluff classic THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER, thus proving that within five years, there will be exactly two movies in existence, and they will be remade over and over and over again.

Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks again play the couple that Meets Cute, Engages in Witty-But-Slightly-Hostile Banter, and then falls in love, in a totally predictable film with the coolest opening credit sequence of the year. Yet surprisingly, the film isn't nearly as insufferably ghastly as it ought to be.

In this year's model, Tom Hanks is Joe Fox, scion of a family-owned mega-bookstore chain, whose latest branch is about to open around the corner from Cathleen Kelly's (Meg Ryan) just-too-adorable children's bookstore called, appropriately enough, Just Around the Corner. Both people are marginally involved with other people -- in Hanks' case, an appalling young woman played with brittle perfection by indie queen Parker Posey. Meg Ryan's occasional interest is Greg Kinnear, who portrays the closest thing to a Jewish guy that we see in the entire film, in the personage of Frank Navasky, a columnist for the New York Observer. (In this role, Kinnear, who seems to be impersonating Kenneth Branagh impersonating Woody Allen in an attempt to impersonate real-life Observer reporter Victor Navasky, is beginning to show a chameleonlike quality that should cement good reviews in second-banana roles in perpetuity.)

Ephron's New York is a place not even Frank Capra could create. The little neighborhood bookstore is too adorable for words. It seems to contain no books published any later than 1956, and is a baby-boomer fantasy of a children's bookstore: early editions of Oz books, Curious George, the Betsy/Tacy books, The Little Engine that Could -- in short, not a Teletubby or Rugrat in the place. The entire Upper West Side is shown as an urban paradise completely devoid of Jews (other than the Kinnear character), with only two black people and one Latina (who works at Zabars, of course). Of course, in the tradition of all New York-based movies in recent years, the bookstore proprietress, who is probably of modest income, lives in a lovely brownstone apartment on a perfectly clean street.

As scripted by Ephron with her sister Delia as YOU'VE GOT MAIL is breezy, well-paced, and a perfect vehicle for its two stars. Tom Hanks' Joe Fox has the boyish niceness of his Joshua Baskin in BIG, with the edge of his Jimmy Dugan in A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN. It's a role Hanks can do in his sleep. Meg Ryan, who in this critic's eyes, is one of the most annoying actresses in America (and in a country that contains Demi Moore, that's saying a lot), plays her adorable blonde bit yet again. Peculiarly, this film often shows her without movie-star makeup, indicating that Hollywood's cruel tendency to put actresses out to pasture after age 35 may mean that this is among her last leading-lady roles.

Well-written, well-scripted, well-acted and completely pointless, YOU'VE GOT MAIL is the perfect "my turn" chick flick to which women can drag their spouses in return for sitting through ARMAGEDDON last summer.

- Jill Cozzi

(2001 update: If you hated YOU'VE GOT MAIL, you'll also hate SERENDIPITY.)

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