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Should I Watch..? 'You've Got Mail' (1998)

Benjamin is a former volunteer DJ at his local hospital radio station. He has been reviewing films online since 2004.

Promotional poster for the film

Promotional poster for the film

What's the Big Deal?

You've Got Mail is a romantic comedy film released in 1998 and is loosely based on the play Parfumerie by Hungarian playwright Miklós Laszlo. The film stars Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan as two people engaged in an online romance, unaware that the other is a bitter business rival. The film also stars Greg Kinnear, Parker Posey, Steve Zahn and Dave Chappelle and is directed by rom-com veteran Nora Ephron. It is the third film to star Hanks and Ryan after Joe Versus The Volcano and the hugely successful Sleepless In Seattle. However, this movie garnered a mixed response from critics who praised the chemistry between the leads but felt the film suffered from excessive product placement (specifically AOL) and an overly sugary feel. The film debuted at #1 on its opening weekend and earned more than $250 million at the global box office.


What's It About?

Independent bookstore manager Kathleen Kelly is frustrated in her relationship with journalist Frank Navasky and troubled by the opening of a large corporate bookstore just around the corner from her shop. She finds solace in an online chatroom under the screen name "Shopgirl" where she finds herself falling for another user calling themselves "NY152." When she realises that the attraction may be mutual, she suffers from a crisis of confidence and wonders who her mystery suitor might be.

Unbeknownst to either of them, "NY152" is the alias of John Fox who is in town overseeing the opening of the aforementioned megastore Fox's. Naturally, the two meet in real life and discover that they are fierce rivals pitched against each other. Will this mutual distrust threaten their online relationship if or when they meet or will real life prove too much of a hindrance to overcome?

What's to Like?

Remember the saying "if it ain't broke, don't fix it?" You've Got Mail knows from the start that it has two of Hollywood's most bankable stars and is quite content to have them repeat the same sweet will-they-won't-they dance once again. And by and large, there's nothing wrong with that philosophy - both Hanks and Ryan provide plenty of whimsy alongside their comic timing and together, they produce a film that is lighter in tone and more enjoyable than Sleepless In Seattle. This is funnier thanks to a better supporting cast and feels more relevant in this digital age.

Ephron's direction and vision with romantic comedies were second to none and the film breezes along quite happily, offering enough doubt to make the ending not entirely predictable. New York looks stunning as a setting, leafy and beautiful in the same way that London propped up Notting Hill and this could almost be made with attracting tourists in mind. The soundtrack is also first-class and well worth a listen if you can find it. Rom-coms are supposed to be light and amusing affairs and in that respect, You've Got Mail does nothing wrong.

The film's dependence on technology means that it has aged really fast - not that it was cutting edge to begin with...

The film's dependence on technology means that it has aged really fast - not that it was cutting edge to begin with...

Fun Facts

  • Bizarrely, this isn't the first adaptation of Laszlo's play. The 1940 film The Shop Around The Corner, coincidentally the name of Kathleen's shop, featured James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan as bitter co-workers in a leather goods store falling for each other as anonymous pen-pals.
  • The song "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" plays over the final scene. This song was also used in Sleepless In Seattle.
  • Former Monty Python member Michael Palin had a role as a writer who gave readings at Kathleen's bookstore but all his scenes were ultimately cut from the film.
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What's Not to Like?

Outside of a James Bond film, I cannot recall a film that blatantly used product placement to such a degree. Obviously, the film's reliance on AOL is inescapable but I emotionally checked out from proceedings when Hanks delivers a monologue extolling the virtues of ordering a coffee from Starbucks. Given the film's subplot about the underdog fighting against corporate bullies, this conflict of interest is especially unpalatable.

My other problem is that there is nothing about You've Got Mail that surprises or stands out from the plethora of other rom-coms available. It's the Toyota Corolla of rom-coms - it doesn't do much wrong but it's difficult to get excited about it, never excelling at anything in particular. The film is as predictable as a Russian general election and the overly sentimental tone feels forced and far too sugary, as though it exists in a world where it rains Skittles and nothing bad ever happens. Mind you, if one of your characters thinks ordering at Starbucks gives you a sense of self then I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that these characters exist in their own little dream world.

The film is content to simply reunite stars Hanks and Ryan but the film needed more than that to work.

The film is content to simply reunite stars Hanks and Ryan but the film needed more than that to work.

Should I Watch It?

As inoffensive as a week-old puppy and twice as sweet, You've Got Mail is possibly the most box-ticky film I've ever seen. It does everything it should in a fluffy rom-com without being outstanding in one particular area, to the point where it almost feels made by committee (or the AOL board). Having said that, Hanks and Ryan retain that undeniable chemistry and the film has more laughs than either of their previous movies together.

Great For: undemanding couples, bloggers, kids who take the Internet for granted these days

Not So Great For: anyone burnt in an online romance, independent shop owners, cynics

What Else Should I Watch?

The reason that Sleepless In Seattle has become one of the most successful rom-coms, I believe, is that it has the courage to offer something different. It isn't a laugh-fest and Hanks & Ryan spend most of the film apart but it provides a thought-provoking look at loss and loneliness in a way that feels traditional - you can imagine the film still working if it were filmed in the Fifties. Compared to the throwaway fluff of Joe Versus The Volcano, Sleepless has become timeless.

Rom-coms are among the most popular type of films produced by Hollywood after superhero flicks and cheap horror remakes. But finding a good one can be a tricky process - my personal recommendations include Notting Hill or Love Actually if it's Christmas, PS, I Love You has plenty to get the tear ducts working overtime and then, you've got the film that seemed to single-handedly revive British film-making, Four Weddings And A Funeral. With a Richard Curtis script, a wonderful soundtrack and Hugh Grant in full-on stammering English gent mode, the film simply doesn't put a foot wrong.

Main Cast


Tom Hanks

John Fox / NY152

Meg Ryan

Kathleen Kelly / Shopgirl

Parker Posey

Patricia Eden

Greg Kinnear

Frank Navasky

Jean Stapleton

Birdie Conrad

Steve Zahn

George Pappas

Heather Burns

Christina Plutzker

Dave Chappelle

Kevin Jackson

Technical Info

*based on the play "Parfumerie" by Miklós László

DirectorNora Ephron


Nora & Delia Ephron *

Running Time

119 minutes

Release Date (UK)

26th February, 1999


Comedy, Romance

© 2018 Benjamin Cox

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