Warner Bros. // 1998 // 120 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Michael Rubino (Retired) // February 4th, 2008
"At odds in life...in love online."
You've Got Mail was sweet and charming when I first saw it in theaters 10 years ago. Today, it retains much of what made it so great: the king and queen of romantic comedies, a great set of supporting actors, and the technically proficient direction of Nora Ephron. Wait, there's more! This 10th anniversary of the film comes with the unintentional bonus of being a time capsule for the explosion of the Internet in pop culture.
Joe Fox III (Tom Hanks) and Kathleen Kelly spend their days with books, and their evenings with e-mails. Fox is one of the owners of Fox Books, a mega-bookstore modeled after Barnes & Nobles or Borders. He happens to be opening a store on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, across the street from Kelly's small children's bookstore, The Shop Around the Corner. Unknowingly, Joe and Kathleen are exchanging anonymous e-mails with each other after meeting in an AOL chat room. They begin falling in love online while hating each other in real life. Can these two business owners put aside their differences and let the Internet guide them to love?
You've Got Mail is a tech-savvy remake of the 1940 James Stewart film The Shop Around the Corner, which was a film adaptation of a Hungarian play by Miklos Laszlo.
It's easy to understand why this movie is so enjoyable: it has the chemical make-up of the perfect "romantic comedy." It has Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, romantic all-stars who acted together in Joe Versus the Volcano and Sleepless in Seattle; it has Nora Ephron, who wrote When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle; it's set in New York in the Fall-ish; and it's a remake of a James Stewart movie. I mean, come on! This is like basic algebra for movie-making success.
Sure that stuff is great, and it makes for a near-perfect date movie (with the exception of the two-hour running time), but there is a lot of other interesting stuff going on beneath the surface. You've Got Mail is a classic romance story that's been told again and again, seemingly over whatever economic situation is prevalent at the time. The Stewart version was set in Depression-era Europe; this 1998 remake is set in modern-day New York amidst the arrival of urban big-box chain stores. The movie has a strange capitalistic struggle going on within it that I didn't notice when I saw it years ago. Ephron works in commentary on New York urbanites, Barnes & Nobles, and Starbucks (before it was on every street corner). The characters don't chat with txt-jargon or use MySpace, but instead rely on dial-up AOL connections and four-inch thick laptops. It's a movie that was unknowingly set on the brink of today's current society, and in turn is a great blast from the recent-past.
You've Got Mail is also a time capsule for the supporting actors, all of whom have spread in different directions since 1998. Joe's best friend Kevin is played by Dave Chappelle; Kathleen's store is run by Steve Zahn; Joe is stuck in a dead-end relationship with Parker Posey; and Kathleen is stuck in a dead-end relationship with Greg Kinnear (he's great at that role, isn't he?). Nora Ephron says in the special features that she believes every role, no matter how small, deserves the best possible actor. It's very apparent in her casting choices, as she has filled her movie with some great character and comedic actors.
Because of these casting choices, and the overall calculated make-up of this movie, You've Got Mail always reminds you that you are, in fact, watching a movie. It sounds weird, I know, but I find it hard to fully suspend my disbelief while watching this film because at times scenes seem fake or contrived. Take, for instance, when Christmas rolls around and each group of characters gets together and sings Christmas carols around a piano. It seems forced and unnecessary, aside from providing another layer of sentimentality, and I don't know too many people that do that kind of thing. The same goes for every time these characters type to one another. The major pitfall of centering a movie around people typing on a computer is it can become very boring. So to liven things up, Ephron has the characters speak aloud what they are typing in an e-mail. The movie is charming, yes, but it is also terribly contrived in terms of its construction. This doesn't ruin the movie by any means, it merely cements it well within the boundaries of its chosen genre.
This being the 10th year since its theatrical release, Warner Bros. has pumped out this double-dip DVD complete with two new special features. The disc contains all of the special features from the 1999 release as well, which makes this an iffy buy for anyone who already owns it.
I'm not exactly sure how "re-mastered" this edition is, considering that I don't own the original release on DVD. The video quality is adequate, although there are some distracting color flickering -- especially at the end of the movie as the camera tilts up towards the sky. The audio is unchanged but still very good. These sorts of movies don't demand the best video and audio quality to still be enjoyable, and this release doesn't mess with things too much.
Leftover from the original DVD release is a delightful and informative commentary by Ephron and Producer Lauren Shuler Donner, an HBO First Look featurette with Ephron, a music-only audio track, a Carole King music video, and a semi-interactive tour of New York's Upper East Side. If you don't have the original DVD, all of these special features are of fairly high production value, even if the content is merely superficial. The Upper East Side tour is the most extensive of the bunch (excluding the commentary). You are given a list of locations from the movie, and when you choose one, a short video filmed on the set loads and tells you about the restaurant or store. For a movie that doesn't feature a whole lot of expansive New York wide shots, they sure do have a lot to say about the locations.
The two new featurettes are "Delivering You've Got Mail" and "You've Got Chemistry." In "Delivering," Ephron, Hanks and Ryan actually sit down and discuss their experiences making the film. It's nice to see them take time out of their schedules to film a new featurette, but I wish they were a little more interesting. Hanks seems perfectly happy just sitting there cracking wise on the couch, and Meg Ryan looks like she just woke up. "You've Got Chemistry" is less about You've Got Mail and more about the romantic comedy genre and the importance of chemistry between the leading actor and actress. The various guests and interviewees provide some good insight on the topic, but it seems like it was just tacked on to justify this latest release.
To differentiate itself from the previous release, You've Got Mail, "the Deluxe Edition," comes in a redesigned metallic-blue packaging and slipcase. Of course, in doing so they jettisoned the charming AOL-inspired design of the original release and instead went with this cold, simplistic packaging that could be used for any romantic comedy.
You've Got Mail is certainly a by-the-book genre film, but as far as romantic comedies go it's top-notch. Hanks and Ryan rekindle their love from past movies and do a great job bringing Ephron's dialogue to life. If you're looking for a date movie you may have missed the first time around, You've Got Mail won't disappoint.
LOL, OMG totally GUILTY!
Review content copyright © 2008 Michael Rubino; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 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
* "Delivering You've Got Mail" featurette
* "You've Got Chemistry" featurette
* Commentary by Nora Ephron and Lauren Shuler Donner
* HBO First Look: A Conversation with Nora Ephron
* "Discover New York's Upper West Side" Interactive Map
* Carole King "Anyone at All" Music Video
* Music-Only Audio Track
* Original DVD Verdict Review