photo courtesy of: Wikipedia
Cover of The Shop Around the Corner
A review of the 1998 classic romantic comedy, “You’ve Got Mail”; a writers perspective.
As I watched this film for the first time, thirteen years ago; I was amazed at the storyline. AOL was king of the Internet; the famous phrase “You’ve Got Mail” bloomed from PC speakers all over the world, and Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan were already huge celebrities.
This quaint, charming; thoroughly enjoyable tale was so well acted, directed and perfect that it was an instant classic. Writer and director Nora Ephron presented a believable and realistic approach to the characters involved, Joe Fox (Tom Hanks), Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) and Frank Navasky (Greg Kinnear) as well as the Upper West Side of Manhattan that sets the backdrop for this wonderfully done love story.
The theme of this movie, a battle between a book sales conglomerate (Fox Books) and a small little family run mainstay (The Shop Around the Corner); is completely believable. In the era of big chains such as Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million and Amazon coming into the fray over buyer dollars, pitting themselves against the Mom & Pop stores nationwide, you feel both the humanity of the big stores and the angst of the smaller ones competing for “their slice of the pie”.
However, what delighted me the most were the characters that were less apparent. The stores themselves. I was, as a writer, thoroughly captivated by Kathleen Kelly’s, The Shop Around the Corner. It was reminiscent of thousands of stores that I had frequented in my lifetime as a reader and a customer. It was a quaint, charming place with the smell of old volumes and leather covers virtually wafting over the smell of theater popcorn and Raisenettes. You could smell the Old English wood polish, the brass cleaner and the simple elegant age of the place. I can still see the dark wood shelves and the little tables set aside for reading, relaxing and feeling at “home”.
Fox Books, in contrast was a spectacle. It was bright and open and airy; the place was huge and books of all genres filled the place. It was Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club and B. Dalton all combined and it was a virtual cornucopia of literary ecstasy. The place was a Parthenon in its ornate decor and its swift efficiency. It was everything that The Shop Around the Corner was not. And, conversely, none of the things it was. Corporate employees seem to hover along every aisle, and, with the speed and efficiency of a snake oil salesman seemed prepared to collect your coin and whisk you directly out the door. It was a marvel of modern sales techniques.
The premise for the movie is this, Kathleen Kelly is the owner of The Shop Around the Corner, a small Upper West Side boutique bookstore. She and her staff are friendly and warm, a real part of the “community”. Kathleen uses the screen name, Shopgirl, on AOL, where she is “friends” with NY152, the screen name of Joe Fox, played by Tom Hanks. The two are mildly flirtatious and send emails back and forth as a way to correspond. Un-beknownst to them they are about to meet face to face.
Hank’s character is the head honcho of Fox Books, a superstore that is beginning construction, virtually right in Kathleen Kelly’s backyard. The owners (The Fox family) seem to thrive on “crushing” the little stores that stand in their way, depicting the usual “big business” callousness that is prevalent in our society. However; Ephron gives the characters involved a essential “humanity”, insights into who they are, that enables you to empathize and understand their motivations.
As the story progresses, a “relationship” grows between NY152 and Shopgirl, even as the battle between Kelly and Fox builds. With beautifully crafted lines such as, “Don’t you love New York in the fall? It makes you 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 it’s charms.”; Ephron appeals to the romantic and poetic side of the viewer.
As in any great romantic comedy, the guy does get the girl eventually (with a great deal of effort) and we are led to assume that they all live happily-ever-after.
The movie is brilliantly done and, yes, charming and as a writer, I fell in love from the first scene.
Just a thought.