You’ve Got Mail

Year: 1998
Studio: Warner Bros
Director: Nora Ephron
Writer: Nora Ephron, Delia Ephron
Cast: Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Greg Kinnear, Parker Posey, Jean Stapleton, Steve Zahn, Dave Chapelle, Dabney Coleman, John Randolph

Along with Sandra Bullock thriller The Net and Keanu Reeves thriller Johnny Mnemonic, You've Got Mail was a signpost rammed into our cultural consciousness forever etched with the year it was released. Almost as soon as it arrived, our zeitgeisty knowledge of the technology depicted had passed.

That makes it even more interesting to finally watch a couple of decades later, like I have. If it's not the sound of the buzzing, beeping modem starting up that strikes you as quaint, it'll be the thrill of coming home from work to find a single email from a friend/secret admirer waiting for you. It's also funny because the world received it with almost none of the cynicism about marketing we'd regard it with today (even the title was product placement for AOL's signature incoming notification).

So it's a surprise to learn that there's a bit more there than it just being 'the email love story' you probably remember. Actually a remake of a 1940s movie, it was also fairly prescient about the coming economic storm that would render small, curated bookshops redundant.

Right at the sweet spot of his career as an endearing romantic lead, Tom Hanks is Joe Fox, the man behind a series of big box bookstores (a barely veiled reference to Barnes & Noble) planning a new location in New York.

Around the corner is the small, quirky bookstore owned by Kathleen (Meg Ryan) that has a loyal following but soon finds it can't compete with the cut-price juggernaut.

Joe and Kathleen are thus natural enemies, but the kicker is that as the movie opens we learn they both have a heavily flirtatious but anonymous email relationship, neither with any idea who their online beau really is.

Something else the movie always gave me the impression about was that it would be a grand comedy of romantic errors of Joe and Kathleen learning each other's secret identities, but the reveal isn't handled as such a big deal. It's more about the funny happenstance of falling in love with someone while you think you hate them, with a liberal fable about how the anonymity of the Internet would ultimately let us reveal our true, uncensored self to someone else.

It's a bit cute and sweet but also a bit cloying as most rom-coms were at the time, but the most interesting aspect will always be the technology depicted and how unsuited to aging it is. One day audiences will regard it the way we today (I'm writing this film 18 years after the movie came out) regard the wire telegraph.

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