What is your favorite movie that would be over in 5 minutes with the use of a smartphone?  Think hard.  I thought about this question for weeks, and couldn’t think of an answer.  Instead, I thought of the exact opposite.  Personal Shopper was one of last year’s best films and its brilliant use of smartphones was integral to the plot.  So I went online and found this Buzzfeed list of 17 movies that would be over in 5 minutes if made in 2017.  All of these movies are bona fide classics, and how dare Buzzfeed criticize Ferris Buehler’s Day Off or Die Hard!  Let’s just be glad these movies were made before the advent of smartphones.

Listed at #9 is You’ve Got Mail, which is a loving tribute to the days of AOL, Barnes & Noble, Starbucks, and Visa.  We sure do miss all of those things. Wait, why couldn’t Starbucks follow the path to extinction blazed by AOL?  On a more serious note, You’ve Got Mail will outlive AOL for as long as Nora Ephron is revered as a founding mother of the romantic comedy.  Ephron’s illustrious writing & directing career includes When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail, and Julie & Julia.   You’ve Got Mail‘s template of business rivals falling in love via anonymous contact was borrowed and updated from the 1940 movie Shop Around the Cornerand will likely inspire another technologically updated remake in 60 years.  For these reasons, You’ve Got Mail won’t be forgotten by the public.  And it won’t be forgotten by me for Greg Kinnear’s excellent performance.  Let’s dig in!

You’ve Got Mail (1998)

Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks were to the 90s what Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper are to the 2010s:  a duo with sizzling on-screen romantic chemistry mastered over a series of movies.  Ryan and Hanks had starred as romantic partners in Joe Versus the Volcano (1990) and Sleepless in Seattle (1993).  By You’ve Got Mail they were automatic.  At the movie’s outset, Ryan is dating Greg Kinnear while Hanks is dating Parker Posey and all are living in NYC.  Ryan & Hanks have been anonymously corresponding through AOL’s e-mail service and its beautiful stepsister AIM.  They’ve developed a strong emotional connection–bordering on an emotional affair–and actively hide this online interaction from their partners.

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Hanks & Ryan in one of You’ve Got Mail’s most memorable scenes, which also featured obvious product placement by Visa.  Photo Credit: Warner Brothers.

But there’s another problem.  Ryan and Hanks may be anonymous online sweethearts, but are rivals irl.  Ryan manages a small independent bookstore inherited from her mother called the Shop Around the Corner, while Hanks is opening a site for his bookstore chain Fox Books (modeled after Barnes & Noble) across the street.  Ryan worries that the variety and discounts offered by Fox Books will bury her.  (The joke’s on Fox Books as it’s only “earmarking” time until Amazon takes over ‘murica).

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Hey guys, I’m here too. Slick hairdo, sweet spectacles, GK is always classy. Photo Credit: Warner Brothers.

Hanks meets Ryan when he visits her store to buy books for his aunt and brother (both young kids, don’t worry about it).  Hanks doesn’t tell Ryan who he is, but she later finds out at a dinner party.  Ryan is rightfully angry, and takes to AOL to vent.  Via AOL, Hanks gives her tips to fight for her business.  Real-boyfriend Kinnear is an anti-capitalism journalist for The Observer, and Ryan has him write a smear piece on Fox Books.  This incites a street protest outside Fox Books, but is too little too late.  Ryan’s store goes under (if only it had pivoted to selling used books).

Eventually, Hanks and Ryan’s online personas agree to meet irl at a restaurant.  Ryan arrives first, and Hanks discovers she’s his AOL soulmate by spying from outside.  Hanks enters the restaurant and toys with Ryan, but never reveals his identity and Ryan believes she’s been stood up.  Later, Ryan and Kinnear end things in the most amicable break up ever (you can watch here) and Hanks breaks up with Posey while stuck in an elevator.  The movie extends for another 30 minutes, with Hanks courting Ryan irl while disparaging her AOL partner.  Eventually Hanks reveals himself and Ryan responds with “I wanted it to be you.”  They kiss and credits roll.

Overall, You’ve Got Mail is a cute rom com with terrific acting by its leads and supporting cast (which also includes Dave Chappelle and Steve Zahn).  The final 30 minutes could have been condensed, as Ryan should have been at least somewhat incensed at how long Hanks strung her along without revealing his identity.   This has led to accusations of the movie being a catfishing story, but these are mostly forced attempts to read history backwards from the present.  In 1998 no one knew the breadth of horrors that male cyberbullies and predators would use the internet for.  We can say that Hanks’ character doesn’t age well, but neither does the pro-monopoly message of You’ve Got Mail.  The movie ends with the boy wooing the girl, but also with the big fox (chain stores) eating the lamb (ma & pop stores).  And it features Starbucks in seemingly every-other scene.  Monopolies may run America, but too much is now known about their negative effects on society for them to be romanticized.

The Greg Kinnear Deluxe Electric

Cutting to the chase, Greg’s performance is borderline Premier Kinnear.  He has the perfect number of scenes (seven), perfect lines (thanks Nora Ephron!), and a surprising amount of character depth.  With his trademark self-deprecating humor, Kinnear describes his character as “based on a writer from The Observer in New York that [Nora] knew. The guy…was a little bit of a nerd.  You know, he’s definitely the guy who doesn’t get the girl.  When you got Tom in the movie and Meg, it ain’t going my way.”  He is a self-flattering journalist who is more obsessed with typewriters and an anti-capitalism, anti-technology, pro-politics agenda than he is with his love life.  Kinnear’s words open the movie, as he warns Meg Ryan of the dangers of computers:

“The entire work force of the state of Virginia had to have solitaire removed from their computers, because they hadn’t done any work in six weeks. Do you know what this is? The end of Western Civilization as we know it.  Technology.  Name me one thing that we’ve gained from technology.”

I could quote every subsequent line of his, as they’re all gems.  You can already see why Kinnear’s a wet rag and Ryan moves on.  Kinnear doesn’t write on a computer (obvi) and instead has a fetishistic relationship with his new typewriter, the Olympia Report Deluxe Electric.  In his second scene, Kinnear listens to Ryan complain about Fox Books, but is much more eager to put her frustration to paper on his shiny new toy:  “You are a lone reed standing tall waving boldly in the corrupt sands of commerce.”

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Obsessed with typewriters, the technology of the future.  Photo Credit: Warner Brothers.

While Kinnear’s tedious tirades don’t fare well at dinner parties, Ephron imbues his journalist character with a joyously childlike narcissism (if that’s a thing).  Kinnear’s self-flattery channels a more innocent version of his strong narcissistic charm in Nurse Betty and Mystery MenKinnear’s eyes light up when Hanks’ girlfriend praises his work at a dinner party, but his self flattery really shines when he publishes an article for Ryan as part of her efforts to fight Fox Books.  As he reads an excerpt of his article, he responds with giddy pride to flattery from Ryan’s business partner.  Also, here’s the excerpt because you need it:

“And so you do not have to look to any of the usual places where good and evil face off, the places Herodotus called the happy land of absolutes. We have the perfect example here on the West Side where the cold cash cow Fox Books threatens survival of a temple to one of the twentieth century’s most profound truths: You are what you read.  Save the Shop Around the Corner and you will save your soul.”

Ultimately, Kinnear’s self flattery and clear incompatibility with Ryan drive them apart.  Kinnear has more chemistry with ladies who join in his self-praise, specifically the TV host who interviews him about his article.  [The TV interview scene is also great, because Kinnear insists on taping his own interview in which he complains about the technology of VHS.  Most anti-technology people are self-contradicting at some point].  Moments before Kinnear and Ryan break up, he says one more thing that probably resonates even more with people today than it did twenty years ago:  “I could never be with anyone who doesn’t take politics as seriously as I do.”

Summary

  • You’ve Got Mail is a cute rom com that gets by on Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks’ dynamite chemistry and a solid supporting cast.  If the movie was made today, Hanks’ character would likely have a realization and quit his job to get the girl…instead of, you know, running her out of business then wooing her.
  • Greg Kinnear delivers one of his finest performances, flashing his trademark charm and an upbeat narcissism.  Swap out his typewriter obsession with a vinyl collection, and his anti-capitalism, pro-politics character would fit right in today!
  • I rank his performance right below Mystery Men.  His lines were perfect (in both movies, really), but he had a bit more range in a similar size role in MM.

    GK does some of his finest work in supporting roles.  You’ve Got Mail is no exception.
  •  Next Up:  Continuing our late 90s/early 2000s run, I’m excited to watch The Gift!   A psychological thriller with an epic trailer, Gift has a superstar cast and features Cate Blanchett attempting a Southern accent.

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