As soon as their respective live-in lovers have left their apartments,
Joe Fox and Kathleen Kelly, with devious smiles, sneak off to their
addictions. They're having an affair with each other over the Internet.
Well, more precisely, they have established intimate relations with each
other electronically, while never disclosing any personal information
like what they do for a living. They don't ever know each other's real
names. Joe's handle is a cryptic "NY152," and Kathleen has a slightly
more revealing one of "shopgirl."
"Don't you love New York in the fall?" Joe begins one of his typical
missives. "It makes me want to buy school supplies. I would send you a
bouquet of newly-sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address. On
the other hand, this not knowing has its charms."
A movie that tries hard to charm your socks off, YOU'VE GOT MAIL
succeeds most of the time. The SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE team of writer and
director Nora Ephron and acting duo Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan again manage
the seemingly undoable. They create a PG-rated romantic comedy for
adults with an intelligent and hilarious script and with charismatic
acting. Without feeling the need to disrobe or toss around obscenities,
the adorable picture makes its points.
Based on the 1940 classic film, THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER, the
deliciously intricate story has Joe (Tom Hanks) and Kathleen (Meg Ryan)
find out about each other in layers. At various times in the story,
they are E-mail buddies, strangers, casual acquaintances, warring
business owners and lovers. Joe manages to discover things ahead of
Kathleen, which adds another level of complexity since he keeps his
knowledge a secret.
Joe and his relatives own "Fox Books," a large chain that specializes
in, as Joe puts it, "cheap books and legally addictive stimulants,"
i.e., discount books and various designer coffees. In business he is
ruthless, willing to "go to the mattresses" whenever necessary to crush
a competitor. If you don't understand that quote, don't be surprised.
Joe has to explain it to Kathleen as well. All of Joe's business
strategy comes from his memorization of lines from THE GODFATHER of
which this quote is one.
Joe lives with a hyperactive publisher named Patricia Eden, played
perfectly by indie queen Parker Posey. As Joe so aptly puts it,
"Patricia makes coffee nervous."
As the nerdy columnist Frank Navasky, Greg Kinnear is as cute a bug.
Frank worships typewriters and keeps two handy at all times to compose
his erudite musings. In one of his best scenes, he is turned to mush on
television by a doting talk show host, played by Jane Adams from
HAPPINESS. Except for Joe's uninteresting and bizarre relatives, the
movie has a strong cast that is given their fair share of juicy lines.
Kathleen runs a bookstore known quaintly as "The Shop around the
Corner." It is a family business and the shop's oldest employee, Birdie
(Jean Stapleton), acts as a surrogate mother to Kathleen. One day, when
everyone is busy warning Kathleen about the dangers of her online
relationship with a stranger, Birdie tells them about her experience.
"I tried to have cybersex once," Birdie confesses. "But I kept on
getting a busy signal."
A background star of the show is New York City itself. The movie
captures its romantic rhythms and sights in such a subtle way that you
slowly fall in love with the city without even realizing it's flirting
The light and breezy movie goes down as easy as one of those large,
fancy coffee drinks featured prominently in the story. The movie,
however, is a little too large. Skimming off a little of the froth,
like Joe's relatives, would improve the brew.
Even if the mixture is not absolutely perfect, it is consistently
charming and delightful. With two attractive and lovable stars and with
a script that will have you in stitches, the film is a welcome Christmas
present for the romantically inclined. To be fair, the bah humbug crowd
and those with a low sugar tolerance may find the movie more than they
can stomach. Others may be so enchanted that they feel like they can
float out of the theater at the end.
YOU'VE GOT MAIL runs about 2:00. It is rated PG for mature themes. The
picture could be enjoyed by anyone over 10, and, although there's
nothing to offend younger ones, they may well be bored.
Copyright © 1998 Steve Rhodes