Picture Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan smooching on a sunny day in a gorgeous New
York City flower garden while "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" plays in the
background. Imagine Jean Stapleton saying "I tried to have cybersex once,
but I kept getting a busy signal." If the two previous sentences made
your stomach turn, keep reading. If, on the other hand, you found the
Hanks/Ryan image just darling and the Stapleton quip too cute for words,
get as far away from this review as possible, because my critique of the
insufferably cutesy-poo "You've Got Mail" will likely give you a headache.
"You've Got Mail" may be the ultimate chick flick. It wouldn't surprise
me if the ushers required any males attending the film to check their
balls at the door. During this excruciating exercise, I heard waves of
female giggling, laughing and "Aww-ing," plus a hearty round of applause
at the end. At no time did any man in the audience make a sound. Whether
this was because they were stunned, sickened or sleeping I cannot say.
I will say this: "You've Got Mail" will delight people who use writing
paper with bunnies on it. I guarantee that some hack critic will describe
the film as "a delightful, frothy holiday confection." "You've Got Mail"
is for people who embroider toaster cozies, fasten "Garfield" cartoons to
their refrigerators with ceramic magnets that look like food, and don't
change the channel when that insufferable Celine Dion "Titanic" song pops
up yet again on the radio. As for the rest of us, this is the sort of
movie that could throw even non-diabetics into sugar shock.
Meg Ryan twinkles non-stop as the proprietor of an unbelievably quaint
children's bookstore in Manhattan. Neighborhood kiddies sit enraptured
when she dresses-up as the chronically-adorable "Storybook Lady" and
reads to them, while her band of lovable rag-tag employees exchange one-
liners straight out of "Caroline in the City." At night, after Meg's
cuddly curmudgeon boyfriend (Greg Kinnear) goes to bed, she races to the
computer, where she waxes rhapsodic with her anonymous online guy pal.
During an endless stream of product placements for America Online, the
playpen for countless Internet twerps, Meg and her secret sweetie
exchange winsome observations about life in the Big Apple ("Don't you
love New York in the fall? It makes me want to buy school supplies"). Are
you gagging yet?
Ah, but there's trouble in Pepperland. Meg's online honey-bunny is Tom
Hanks, an executive of a evil corporation that runs a chain of soulless
mega-bookstores. In standard movie coincidence fashion, his next Uber-
store is slated to open, you guessed it, right next to Meg's cuddly-
wuddly shop. The two continue their online flirt-a-thon, blissfully
unaware that in real life they are bitter business enemies. Goodness
gracious, how ironic!
Director Nora Ephron, who teamed with Hanks and Ryan for "Sleepless in
Seattle," co-wrote the script for this remake of "The Shop Around the
Corner," which doesn't contain a single sentence that any actual human
being would ever say in a million years. The painfully mannered dialogue
plays like the first draft of a flop Neil Simon play, made even more
irritating by Ephron's coy direction. From the first shot of Meg Ryan,
mugging for the camera while the soundtrack plays the kind of saccharin
music most often heard in movies with chimps or the Olsen twins, it's
clear that Ephron is aiming this fluff at those who consider "Touched By
An Angel" high art.
It gets even worse. Hanks enjoys a VH1 moment at a colorful street fair,
frolicking with a couple of kids. Ryan tries to psych herself up for a
confrontation by engaging in a cute-as-a-kitten session of shadow-boxing,
triggering fits of tittering from the women seated around me. I could go
on, but just writing about this noxious movie is making me woozy.
Before anyone fires off an angry letter on their sky blue note paper with
teddy bears on the borders, let me assure you that I am not the Grinch
that stole Christmas. I love "It's A Wonderful Life," and the romantic
comedy, "The Philadelphia Story," and "Local Hero," a whimsical tale
packed with quirky characters, is one of my all-time favorite films. The
difference between those movies and "You've Got Mail" is simple. They
have style and class, while "You've Got Mail" is pure goo, a frilly
Hallmark card with icing, whipped cream and a cherry on top. As soon as I
got home from enduring this concoction, I slapped a copy of "L.A.
Confidential" into the VCR, because exposure to a toxic offering like
"You've Got Mail" requires a severe and immediate antidote.
Hugs, kisses and rainbows, Ed
P.S. If you thought "You've Got Mail" was wonderful and are steaming over
this review, let me ask you one question. If Tom really loved Meg and saw
that his mega-store was about to drive her children's bookstore out of
business, why didn't he simply stop carrying children's books and
instruct his staff to direct customers to Meg's place? His business could
easily withstand the minute drop in revenue, her business would continue
to thrive and it would have been the decent thing to do. Think about that
while you're rearranging the figurines on your toilet tank doily, girls.
Copyright © 1998 Edward Johnson-Ott