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Film: You've Got Mail

You've Got Mail is a 2 hour advertisement for AOL 1998 romantic comedy featuring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. It was directed by Nora Ephron. Sisters Nora and Delia Ephron co-wrote the script. The Ephron sisters admitted they were updating Parfumerie, a theatrical play by Miklós Lászlo (1903-1973) for a new generation. Naturally it is also related to The Shop Around the Corner, a 1940 film adaptation of the same play.

Joe Fox (Hanks) and Kathleen Kelly (Ryan) are both active in the New York bookstore scene, but at very different levels. Joe is a high-ranking executive for "Fox Books", an ever-expanding chain of bookstores. Kathleen runs "The Shop Around The Corner", a small independent bookstore, inherited from her mother. As she keeps losing customers to Fox Books and is in danger of going bankrupt, Kelly starts a public campaign against the chain. Naturally Joe and Kathleen's relationship is adversarial.

Meanwhile the two are involved in rather unsatisfying romantic relationships and feel lonely. They search for pen pals over the Internet. Fox uses the screen name "NY152"; Kelly goes by "Shopgirl". They soon become friends and begin courting over the Internet, each unaware that their new love interest and business rival are the same person.

The film was a box office hit; its total lifetime gross estimated to $250,821,495. With about $116 million earned in the United States alone, it was the 14th most financially successful film of its year. While the plot was hardly original, the film gathered rather positive reviews due to the chemistry between its leads, its often witty dialogues, quirky supporting cast and somewhat realistic take on the plight of small businesses going under.

This film provides examples of:

  • Alliterative Name: Kathleen Kelly.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Although, unusually, the attraction predates the belligerence.
  • Big Applesauce: The entire story takes place in the city.
  • Black Best Friend: Dave Chappelle (who passed up playing Tom Hanks' best friend before, in Forrest Gump).
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: What Kathleen takes Joe to be. He turns out to be a nice person; although he does sometimes have an arrogant streak about his business (especially the first time he converses with Kathleen after she finds out he's of Fox Books), he is also aware enough to admit that it's something he doesn't like about himself.
  • Chick Flick: Unashamedly so.
  • Cool Old Guy: Joe's father lives on a boat, makes Manhattans and gives his son free relationship advice.
  • Dating Service Disaster: A big part of the plot.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Joe has to convince Kathleen he's not a horrible person offline.
  • Drink Order: Joe Fox will have a Stoli; Kathleen Kelly will have white wine.
  • Felony Misdemeanor: While Kathleen and Joe are having a tiff at a dinner party (shortly after Kathleen finds out he is the part of the Fox Books hierarchy), he nonchalantly scoops some caviar off a dessert plate onto his own. Kathleen is offended by that ("That caviar is a GARNISH!"), prompting Joe to look her in the eye and wordlessly put more caviar on his plate.
  • Fictional Counterpart: Fox Books is clearly a stand-in for Barnes & Noble, and the way it forces Kathleen's bookshop out of business is based on the real-life 1996 closure of a small Upper West Side bookstore, Shakespeare & Co., following the opening of a B&N branch in the same neighborhood.
  • Genre Throwback: A wholly uncynical and innocent movie about romance. A throwback to Hollywood's Golden Age of fluffy romance films, featuring no villains, all nice people, witty dialogue and a lot of supporting roles, and the movie's conclusion is never in doubt. (Understandably, since "Parfumerie" — the play this movie is based on — was released in 1937.)
  • Insufferable Genius: Frank Navasky has traces of this; he writes on fairly arcane political topics but is rather full of himself. May double as Small Name, Big Ego.
  • Love Before First Sight: The two fall in love through emails and online chat alone.
  • Loves My Alter Ego: Joe, once he knows he's talking to Kathleen online. She loves him when they trade e-mails but understandably dislikes him in real life.
  • Must Have Caffeine: Joe Fox explains his business plan: "we're going to sell them cheap books and legal addictive stimulants".
  • Overly Narrow Superlative: It's mentioned a few times that Frank is "the greatest living expert on Julius and Ethel Rosenberg".
  • Pair the Spares
  • Pet the Dog: Literal example: Joe Fox has a dog and he meets Kathleen while walking it.
  • Precision F-Strike: Joe goes on a tirade about how the news edited his interview rather unfavorably compared to Kathleen and shouts "Shit!" in the fitness club in quite possibly the film's only use of swearing.
  • Predatory Business: Subverted. Even if Fox Books undercuts the prices of family bookstores like The Shop Around The Corner, it still serves the community for the better — when Kelly is walking around the store, she sees groups of adults and children alike scattered around reading books and having fun. Even if the one employee didn't know about the "Shoe" books, there's no indication that they are selling cheap material or using dirty business practices. As Joe Fox said, "I sell cheap books. Sue me".
    Roger Ebert: The movie is sophisticated enough not to make the mega-store into the villain. Say what you will, those giant stores are fun to spend time in.
  • Quote Mine: Joe's interview rebuttal to Kathleen's protest was a victim of this. He was quoted as saying "I sell cheap books. Sue me". The extended quote actually also mentioned that their bookstore was a place where people are welcome to come in, sit and enjoy the afternoon.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The name of Kathleen Kelly's store, "The Shop Around The Corner", is a deliberate reference to the 1940 movie.
    • Joe Fox/NY152 constantly refers to The Godfather as the "I Ching" of manly wisdom and quotes extensively from the film. He inadvertently teaches Meg Ryan the meaning of the phrase "Go to the mattresses" — go to war with your enemies — which she promptly uses to declare war on Hanks' store chain.
    • Another, more subtle shout-out is the Kathleen's statement that she loves Pride and Prejudice, which also features the "enemies becoming a couple" plot. It's also the book that she brings to their disastrous "first" meeting.
  • Sophisticated as Hell: Joe's reaction to being Quote Mined in a TV interview: "I was eloquent! Shit!"
  • Technology Marches On:
    • This being a film where people use computers in 1998, you will of course hear the sounds of dial-up modems connecting to America Online 4.0 (released that summer) on laptops that, compared to Netbooks and even tablets today, look incredibly bulky. In addition, the use of instant messaging, chat rooms and email, rather revolutionary at the time, is now rather overshadowed by the rise of social networking, audio/video chat, and text messaging on mobile phones. The anonymous pen pals premise might be a tad harder to pull off today in comparison.
    • More early-AOL residue: During the one sequence using Instant Messenger, both characters type in far more into the windows than what most people do today, who prefer to break up long blocks of text across several IMs.
    • Also, as mentioned above, these days online book retailers and e-booksellers are the ones forcing mega-bookstores out of business, making Fox Books' dominance a bit hilarious in hindsight.
  • Unintentional Period Piece: This movie fairly well screams 1998, thanks in no small part to how quickly the relevant Technology Marches On.
  • What the Hell, Hero?:
    • Kathleen does one to herself. When she finally musters the confidence and the ability to zing and insult Joe at the coffee shop, she at first feels enlightened but later expresses regret and guilt about being "cruel" in an email to "NY152".
    • Joe simultaneously goes through the same thing after realizing he stepped over the line by needling her while also not revealing himself as her pen-pal. In his e-mailed apology in response, he tells her not to feel too guilty because it was "provoked and maybe even deserved". This starts the turning point in both characters easing up on their hostility towards the other.

The Woman In RedRomantic Comedy    
The X-Files: Fight the FutureFilms of the 1990sZero Effect

alternative title(s): Youve Got Mail
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