Warner Bros. // 1998 // 120 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Nicholas Sylvain (Retired) // July 6th, 1999
Modern (modem?) life meets old-fashioned romance.
Life and love in New York City never looked so appealing, particularly when you see it through the eyes of a talented pair of actors whose on-screen chemistry is simply stunning. Even better, it is served up with a nice garnish of extras.
Back when this movie hit the theatres, I was rather dismissive and never planned to see it. I figured that I'd seen this movie already when it was called Sleepless In Seattle, so why would I want to see something so similar, and quite possibly not as good? It took being trapped on a trans-Atlantic flight to get me to see the movie, which despite a screw-up (for some reason they played the middle of the movie twice and we landed before we could see the ending!) got me hooked. Naturally, I had to see the ending, so I rented it, and ended up watching it at least three more times as my seatmates also got to see the whole movie over again.
Each time I watch this movie, it seems to grow on me, to the point now where I wonder why I had any reservations at all about seeing it. This is particularly true when I consider a very personal affinity for this movie, in that I originally met my wife in a similar fashion over a college computer system. After my repeated viewings, I realized that I now prefer You've Got Mail to Sleepless in Seattle, because here we get the characters to share screen time together long before the final payoff. Just having them interact, directly or via their computers, is just such a pleasure to watch that I want as much of it as I can. The nearest comparison I can think of is Heat, where we are cheated out of seeing Al Pacino and Robert De Niro interact on screen except for one all too brief scene.
Tom Hanks (Joe Fox III) and Meg Ryan (Kathleen Kelly) are the heart and soul of this movie. Perhaps it is a high tribute to their acting skills when I say that they come off as very real people, almost as if they were simply playing themselves, and not just a part. They come complete with their own flaws and blind spots. Maybe that's the secret to their audience appeal? The supporting cast blends in wonderfully as well, with our couple each having their own circle of characters.
For Kathleen Kelly, we have Birdie (Jean Stapleton) as the voice of wisdom, Christina (Heather Burns) as her confidant, George Pappas (Steve Zahn) as a low-key, scene-stealing funny man (much as he was in Out of Sight), and Frank Navasky (Greg Kinnear) as her passionate, educated, neo-Luddite boyfriend. Joe Fox has his own funny man assistant, Kevin (David Chappelle), his father, Nelson Fox (Dabney Coleman), who never sticks with a woman for long, and a neurotic, hyper girlfriend, Patricia Eden (Parker Posey).
The story keeps us going to the end, as we just know they have to get together, but we keep rooting just the same. We are very quickly introduced to Joe and Kathleen and their cyber-relationship, which evidently is emotionally involving for both of them, despite their "real life" relationships with other people. Not long after, we also see that Joe and Kathleen are fated to be bitter business rivals, as Joe is a book superstore businessman opening up a brand-new, huge store boasting (according to Joe) "cheap books and legal, addictive stimulants," whereas Kathleen owns a small children's bookstore in very close proximity to the "big, bad, chain store."
Unaware that the other is their email love, Joe and Kathleen bump into each other, where the sparks fly as they recognize each other as business rivals. While they feud in real life, they continue their email relationship, where Kathleen bemoans her predicament and Joe comes to the rescue with consolation and advice ("Go to the mattresses!"). When they finally muster up the courage for a meeting, Joe is shocked to discover that Kathleen is his email pal, but by clever strategy does so without revealing his secret identity.
After an elevator mishap, Joe reevaluates his life and determines to win Kathleen. So, while he continues the email as her mystery friend, in real life he charms and romances her in a very ingenious and subtle manner. Kathleen had been unhappy with the progress of her own life, so she slowly warms to Joe, but always with the knowledge of her emotional attachment to he mystery guest holding her back. In the end, we are treated to a simple but sublimely sweet ending as they finally, truly meet.
As one would expect from a recent movie, the video transfer is darned near perfect. New York and its denizens look crisp and clear, with dazzling color saturation and deep black levels. Without any explosions to tax your subwoofer, your speakers will have to content themselves with carrying a lighter load then they may be used to, but that's par for the course with a romance movie. The dialogue is clear and distinct, and the music explores the whole range of sound, from beautiful highs to tight lows.
The music is worthy of special commendation, as it is a key player in creating the romantic energy of the movie while at times reinforcing the emotional sense of a scene. Wisely, Warner made this soundtrack available as an alternate music-only track. I like this presentation of a soundtrack, as it can provide insight into how the music tracks with the visual action, without the distraction of dialogue and effects. Finally, noting the songs in the scene index is a nice touch!
Warner has bestowed a wealth of extras upon this disc. You get a 14-minute behind the scenes featurette (first shown on HBO), an interactive "tour" of the Upper West Side of New York, using shots from the movie and narration by director Nora Ephron, and then a full-length commentary from Nora Ephron and co-producer Lauren Shuler Donner. The commentary is a good specimen of the type, giving you the feeling of sitting down for a cup of coffee with Ms. Ephron and Donner as they impart thoughts about the story, the locations, the process of making the movie, and the special charms of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in a pleasant and witty fashion.
The main menu uses movie video and music to good effect, but the submenus are pretty if static. Production notes here are the usual cast and crew bios. Warner, bless their hearts, also chose to cram twelve, count 'em, twelve trailers on this disc! You get two for this movie (one is full-frame, boo hiss!), one for The Shop Around the Corner (1940) (being the previous film version of this story), one for The Good Old Summertime (1949) and trailers for Addicted to Love (1997), Arthur (1981), The Bridges of Madison County (1995), City of Angels (1998), Joe Versus the Volcano (1990), Message in a Bottle (1999), Michael (1996), and Tin Cup (1996) that are all widescreen! Although I cannot review them, according to the packaging you also get a nice list of DVD-ROM features, such as seeing original call sheets, comparing key scenes in this movie with those from the two previous screen versions, seeing the mail the exchanged between the characters, and more.
One final point is that for many dual-layer discs, the handling of the layer switch can be fair to poor, but here it is outstanding. I still don't know where it is!
Okay, I'm going to have to reach here, because there is very little for me to criticize on this disc. I wish that the submenus were as pleasing as the main menu, and the on-disc scene selection should use video (not just static pictures) and note the songs as is done for the chapter list on the packaging.
One point that is not a stretch is to point out that the disc is in the less than ideal Warner snapper case. If Warner would figure out a snapper case that I could take apart and simply insert in a blank Amaray case, I'd be happier, and if they would just use the Amaray case, that would be perfect!
An excellent romantic comedy that the whole family can enjoy, and a wise choice for a movie to see with a date. With the reasonable price and top-notch treatment that Warner gave this disc, it should be a part of your DVD experience.
Unreservedly acquitted. The Court sentences itself to watch this disc at least a dozen more times!
Review content copyright © 1999 Nicholas Sylvain; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 120 Minutes
Release Year: 1998
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Production Notes
* 12 Theatrical Trailers