I am a big fan of Nora Ephron (RIP) and her writing. I feel like I always have been. As many of you know, When Harry Met Sally is one of my favorite films and it is one that I can recite, verbatim. Now, that being said, You’ve Got Mail is not her best executed film. I still love it, though.
This film is a remake of the 1940 film The Shop Around the Corner, but updated to the computer age. This update, however, has now greatly dated the film, as the characters log on to their dial up internet to read their email and instant message each other.
I am 100% convinced that, if it were not Tom Hanks cast as Joe Fox, this film would be completely unlikable, or at least this character would be. Joe Fox puts Kathleen Kelly out of business, without any real remorse. He continuously says that it wasn’t personal, it was just business. He then, once finding out that ShopGirl is Kathleen Kelly, plays an emotional game with her. First, he makes her think that she is being stood up. Then, he proceeds to befriend her as Joe Fox but continue to string her along as NY152. Right before she’s about to go meet her internet mystery man, Joe reveals to her that he has feelings for her. All in all, that’s a pretty shitty thing to do.
I want to give Kathleen the benefit of the doubt. I want to think that, after the initial meeting, she does confront Joe about the game he has played with her. Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s what happens. After all, she wanted it to be him so bad.
Had the character of Joe Fox been played by anybody other than Tom Hanks, it would not have worked. First, there’s the undeniable chemistry that he and Meg Ryan share. Second, the amount of charisma and confidence that he exudes is what really sells that character. If he wasn’t shown as charming at any point, he would be despicable. That’s one of the reasons I think that the entire segment with him and the children is even in the film, to show us a soft side to an otherwise horrible character.
I think this film gets a pass in that department, though, because it has the satisfying ending that we did not get in another Ephron picture, Sleepless in Seattle. Don’t get me wrong, this one has a whole slew of problems itself. However, I do remember feeling underwhelmed and unsatisfied by the ending of the film, where they merely say hello to each other and leave together. At least in You’ve Got Mail there’s more closure for the two characters.
The strongest thing this film, and most other Ephron films, has going for it is the soundtrack. Each song is picked out and placed with purpose. Each song is used to either express to us the characters’ emotions or to emphasize the feeling of a moment. A song is never used just for the sake of using it.
This film may not have aged well, but the performances of Hanks and Ryan make it a classic.