Movie review: ‘You’ve Got Mail’

ygmThe so-called “chick flicks” are haunted by typically accurate terms such as “horrid” or “vapid” (also “stupid,” “an insult to human intelligence” and “caters to the ignorant”), but I have to admit that one of the guilty pleasures of the genre is the simply sensational “You’ve Got Mail.” Both Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan give sterling performances in “You’ve Got Mail” and although there are flaws you’d have to be a Scrooge to point even one out. If you haven’t seen in for some time, treat yourself again. You won’t be disappointed.

‘You’ve Got Mail’
(1998; 119 minutes; rated PG; directed by Nora Ephron and starring Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan and Parker Posey)

YOU’VE GOT A GREAT MOVIE

(NOTE: I expanded this review on Jan. 11, 2017, with additional opinion, some more trivia and the updating of links.)

It’s a formula that so many movies try, yet fail miserably to accomplish: have a male star be the man every man wants to be and have a female star that every woman wants to be. So goes the film “You’ve Got Mail” in which Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan find themselves and each other and it doesn’t come off as complete saccharine schmaltz in the swill of the “chick flick” genre.

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Hanks flirts at the edge of being too perfect and prissy, but manages to be a boy who’s fun and has with the guys but also is a hit with just about all women. Ryan is the girl who is bright, energetic and naïve and makes sure these are endearing but not annoying traits that makes her attractive to all boys.

In “You’ve Got Mail,” both run businesses at the opposite end of the book trade. Hanks is “Joe Fox,” who is the heir to a Barnes & Noble-like chain (check out the design of posters in their stores) of book discounters while Ryan as “Kathleen Kelly” is the owner of a small independent bookstore (the “Shop Around the Corner”) about to fall under the “Fox Books” steamroller.

Unknown to each other, they are anonymous pen pals on AOL and are actually so simpatico that they get an emotional thrill just to hear that company’s signature “You’ve Got Mail” voice when they launch AOL on their computers (are you old enough to remember when AOL ruled online?). Of course they clash in business (and face-to-face at a party) and Hanks ultimately discovers that she’s his previously unidentified e-mail pal, but there’s wonderful filmmaking (one of the usually bland and tepid Nora Ephron’s two good directing efforts) here and it’s guided to the feel-good ending everyone expects, deserves and gets.

Here’s a look at some of the principal cast:

  • As I wrote above, Hanks is suave, smooth and funny while still being one of the smartest guys in any room (he’d never stand for hearing “the smartest” since he’s not that kind of guy). Hanks, who was equally good in “Sleepless in Seattle” with an equally good Ryan (Ephron’s only other solid directing effort), does with perfect pitch the near-impossible balance of perfect timing and perfect delivery of each of his lines (he also eats the caviar garnish at a party … not something that Schwarzenegger or Stallone could pull off). Hanks was also in the cult classic “Bachelor Party” (click here for my review), “Punchline” and “Splash” (click here for my review) to name three of his lesser-known films.
  • Ryan goes beyond perky to actually be intelligent, deep and just plain fun as she first spars with Hanks and then tries to reject her attraction for him. She’s everything every guy in the theater would admire. Ryan shows that there’s strength as the foundation to positive outlook and she can be practical and businesslike as the situation warrants. Ryan was also in “Innerspace” (click here for my review), “When Harry Met Sally…” and the excellent “The Presidio” with Mark Harmon and Sean Connery (click here for my review).
  • The snappiest supporting cast member is Parker Posey as “Patricia Eden,” Hanks’ girlfriend at the start of the film. She’s bustling, aggressive and opinionated and almost shivers with energy if she has to stop for even a second. Posey does almost as much with this small role as she did co-starring with Danny DeVito in the little-known “The Oh in Ohio.” She has also been in “A Mighty Wind” and “Best in Show.”
  • Lost in “You’ve Got Mail” are Dave Chappelle as “Kevin Jackson,” who is Hanks’ friend and subordinate, and Greg Kinnear as “Frank Navansky,” who is Ryan’s boyfriend and a writer. Both roles are small and, although Kinnear has a funny scene while being interviewed on TV, they kind of get lost here. For example, Chappelle’s character drops out of the picture too quickly. Chappelle has been in “Half Baked” and had his own-named TV show, while Kinnear was good in “Fast Food Nation,” just OK in the remake “Bad News Bears” (click here for my review) and suitably creepy playing the late (and very troubled) TV star Bob Crane in “Auto Focus.”
  • By far the most effective supporting actor is Jean Stapleton, who plays “Birdie Conrad,” who is Ryan’s bookkeeper and best friend to her late mother. Stapleton is smooth, supportive and the voice of reality here in her best work since you heard her say, “Archie!” in TV’s legendary “All in the Family.”
  • Somewhat underused is Dabney Coleman as “Nelson Fox,” who is Hanks’ father here. Coleman has crafted a career of impressive supporting roles from “Nine to Five” to most recently TV’s “Boardwalk Empire.” Coleman, like Stapleton, is smooth but one tiny flaw here is that filmmakers could have done more with his character and his straying young wife. Coleman has also been in “WarGames” (click here for my review) and “The Beverly Hillbillies.”
  • Finally, the two other “Shop Around the Corner” employees are the wonderful and quirky Steve Zahn as “George Pappas” and the smooth and quiet Heather Burns as “Christina Plutzker.” The trouble is that they just don’t find enough screen time to be really effective. Zahn has been in “Saving Silverman” and “Dallas Buyers Club” while Burns has been in “Miss Congeniality” and “Two Weeks Notice.”

Say what you want about the so-called “chick flicks,” but this one is better than “Sleepless in Seattle,” which was nominated for two Oscars. Do yourself a favor and watch “You’ve Got Mail” if you already haven’t (maybe you got a bad review) or again if you have. Enjoy!

You’ve Got Mail” was the 14th ranked movie at the U.S. box office in 1998 with $115.8 million in receipts, according to Box Office Mojo. Ultimately worldwide, “You’ve Got Mail” would make $250.8 million on its $65 million budget, according to Wiki. Although there were far superior films (“Saving Private Ryan” was No. 1 with $216.5 million and of course starred Hanks); there were far funnier films (“There’s Something About Mary” was No. 3 with $176.4 million) and there was a great animated film (Disney’s “Mulan” was No. 13 with $120.6 million), but there were no more endearing films than “You’ve Got Mail.”

Here are the films from 1998 that I’ve reviewed:

Assorted cast notes (via IMDb.com):

  • John Randolph, who plays “Schuyler Fox,” who is Hanks’ grandfather. Randolph did his octogenarian best here, but he was better as Chevy Chase’s father in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” (click here for my review). He also was in “Serpico” and “Prizzi’s Honor” (click here for my review).
  • Directly from IMDb.com: “Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) is obsessed with The Godfather (1972), and frequently uses dialogue from it to shape his philosophy on life. In the Coppola Restoration Godfather DVDs, Alec Baldwin claims that Hanks and Rob Reiner are both Godfather aficionados, and have hosted viewing parties where the attendees play drinking games and quote famous lines while watching the film.”
  • Meg Ryan reportedly got her first computer as she prepared for this film.
  • Hallee Hirsh and Jeffrey Scaperrotta as “Annabell Fox” and “Matt Fox,” who are Hanks’ sister (although she’s only about 10) and uncle (his grandfather’s son about age 4) take being “cute” to a new level.
  • Directly from IMDb.com: “Both Kathleen and Joe used AOL software to connect to the Internet. They were both using version 4.0 which was in beta testing mode when the film was being made.”
  • Finally and directly from IMDb.com: “First film allowed to be filmed inside the classic grocery store on Broadway and West 80th Street – Zabar.”
  • Nick Castle was reportedly the original director before Nora Ephron took over. I can’t argue that Ephron’s work is great, but it would have been nice if just about any other director had accomplished it. I’m not a big fan of Ephron.

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