Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle You've Got Mail

By Steve Davis

DECEMBER 21, 1998: 

D: Nora Ephron; with Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Greg Kinnear, Dave Chappelle, Jean Stapleton, Parker Posey, Steve Zahn, Dabney Coleman. (PG, 116 min.)

They say that chemistry is everything when it comes to romantic screen pairings. As the star-crossed couple who carry on a cyberspace romance that has trouble translating into real life, Hanks and Ryan double-click in You've Got Mail. Unlike actors in many contemporary movie romances, they connect in that undefinable but unmistakable way, their attraction to each other as natural and inevitable as taking the next breath. Both Hanks and, more particularly, Ryan have heavily relied on certain expressions to play cute in the past -- she often scrunches up her face and flashes a gummy grin, he's prone to looking befuddled and skeptical at the same time -- but those mannerisms don't obscure their characters' mutual attraction here. Nora and Delia Ephron's screenplay begins smartly as it charts the movie's online love affair, observing that strange intimacy in the context of the bustling and impersonal streets of New York City. (The joke goes that the one, true love of your life may walk right past you on the sidewalk, and you'll never know it.) Things get complicated when the two chatliners unknowingly meet and end up disliking each other upon discovering that they are Upper West Side business rivals: She owns a quaint children's bookstore, a neighborhood fixture for over 40 years, while he's building a nearby superbookstore that sells everything at a discount, except for the cappuccino. The war between competing enterprises escalates into a war between the sexes, with the embattled finding themselves oddly attracted to the other without knowing why. Eventually, one of them finds out who the other is, a development that you could characterize as either a vaguely sexist plot device or a canny means by which to entice the movie's female audience. As in Ephron's other directorial efforts (Sleepless in Seattle), the secondary characters in You've Got Mail are flat and almost superfluous; when Hanks and Ryan aren't onscreen together, you're antsy until they reappear. That's how good the two are as a pair -- everyone can't help but pale in comparison. In many ways, You've Got Mail is a valentine to the happenstance miracle of lovers and other strangers, a movie that regards modern romance as something that is, ultimately, old-fashioned to its core. It's that classic sense of timelessness that makes You've Got Mail an appealing love story for these and all other times.

3.5 stars

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