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You've Got Mail

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: You've Got Mail

Starring: Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan
Director: Nora Ephron
Rated: PG
RunTime: 110 Minutes
Release Date: December 1998
Genres: Comedy, Romance

*Also starring: Parker Posey, Jean Stapleton, Dave Chappelle, Steve Zahn, Greg Kinnear, Dabney Coleman, John Randolph

Review by Steve Rhodes
3½ stars out of 4

As soon as their respective live-in lovers have left their apartments, Joe Fox and Kathleen Kelly, with devious smiles, sneak off to their addictions. They're having an affair with each other over the Internet. Well, more precisely, they have established intimate relations with each other electronically, while never disclosing any personal information like what they do for a living. They don't ever know each other's real names. Joe's handle is a cryptic "NY152," and Kathleen has a slightly more revealing one of "shopgirl."

"Don't you love New York in the fall?" Joe begins one of his typical missives. "It makes me 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 its charms."

A movie that tries hard to charm your socks off, YOU'VE GOT MAIL succeeds most of the time. The SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE team of writer and director Nora Ephron and acting duo Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan again manage the seemingly undoable. They create a PG-rated romantic comedy for adults with an intelligent and hilarious script and with charismatic acting. Without feeling the need to disrobe or toss around obscenities, the adorable picture makes its points.

Based on the 1940 classic film, THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER, the deliciously intricate story has Joe (Tom Hanks) and Kathleen (Meg Ryan) find out about each other in layers. At various times in the story, they are E-mail buddies, strangers, casual acquaintances, warring business owners and lovers. Joe manages to discover things ahead of Kathleen, which adds another level of complexity since he keeps his knowledge a secret.

Joe and his relatives own "Fox Books," a large chain that specializes in, as Joe puts it, "cheap books and legally addictive stimulants," i.e., discount books and various designer coffees. In business he is ruthless, willing to "go to the mattresses" whenever necessary to crush a competitor. If you don't understand that quote, don't be surprised. Joe has to explain it to Kathleen as well. All of Joe's business strategy comes from his memorization of lines from THE GODFATHER of which this quote is one.

Joe lives with a hyperactive publisher named Patricia Eden, played perfectly by indie queen Parker Posey. As Joe so aptly puts it, "Patricia makes coffee nervous."

As the nerdy columnist Frank Navasky, Greg Kinnear is as cute a bug. Frank worships typewriters and keeps two handy at all times to compose his erudite musings. In one of his best scenes, he is turned to mush on television by a doting talk show host, played by Jane Adams from HAPPINESS. Except for Joe's uninteresting and bizarre relatives, the movie has a strong cast that is given their fair share of juicy lines.

Kathleen runs a bookstore known quaintly as "The Shop around the Corner." It is a family business and the shop's oldest employee, Birdie (Jean Stapleton), acts as a surrogate mother to Kathleen. One day, when everyone is busy warning Kathleen about the dangers of her online relationship with a stranger, Birdie tells them about her experience. "I tried to have cybersex once," Birdie confesses. "But I kept on getting a busy signal."

A background star of the show is New York City itself. The movie captures its romantic rhythms and sights in such a subtle way that you slowly fall in love with the city without even realizing it's flirting with you.

The light and breezy movie goes down as easy as one of those large, fancy coffee drinks featured prominently in the story. The movie, however, is a little too large. Skimming off a little of the froth, like Joe's relatives, would improve the brew.

Even if the mixture is not absolutely perfect, it is consistently charming and delightful. With two attractive and lovable stars and with a script that will have you in stitches, the film is a welcome Christmas present for the romantically inclined. To be fair, the bah humbug crowd and those with a low sugar tolerance may find the movie more than they can stomach. Others may be so enchanted that they feel like they can float out of the theater at the end.

YOU'VE GOT MAIL runs about 2:00. It is rated PG for mature themes. The picture could be enjoyed by anyone over 10, and, although there's nothing to offend younger ones, they may well be bored.

Copyright 1998 Steve Rhodes

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