We start this new series with a tribute to peak Meg Ryan-Tom Hanks-New York romantic comedy. That’s right, we watched You’ve Got Mail. If you haven’t seen it, go, watch, and return.
Are you back? Did you like it? It’s cheesy perfection and the reunion of Sleepless in Seattle‘s cutie star-crossed couple holds up pretty well, and for our money, is the best New York has looked in fall. If this film doesn’t make you want to go buy cozy sweaters and snuggle up with a book at a shop, you’re not doing it right.
The other best part of the film is that it portrays a completely different world, one that happened just 18 years ago. Back in 1998, before 9/11, the world was becoming homogenized. Starbucks was the new hotness on every corner. Brooklyn wasn’t a hip place to be. Borders and Barnes & Noble were opening up giant megaplexes of book-coffee-social spaces across suburbia and urban centers alike.
You’ve Got Mail works, in part, because you could easily believe in 1998 that an adorable, expensive and specialized children’s bookstore would go out of business because a Borders redux opened up next door. Today? Those companies are out of business or struggling. Small boutiques are hip again. These things are so cyclical and happening in such quick turns that you can see several of them even in a relatively short two-decade timespan.
This also works because we all felt the pain of AOL dial-up. We didn’t know anything else, and when it was successful, it was amazing. There were times the whole system moved so slowly that it almost wasn’t worth it. Today’s lightning quick connection speeds and seemingly infinite internet possibilities offer such a different world, just 18 years later. Makes you wonder what the next 18 years will bring us …
And then there are the timeless elements of this picture. You’ve Got Mail is, in all the ways we’ve discussed, a time capsule, but it’s not nostalgia that makes it endure so well. Nope. It’s something that’s essentially ineffable, but unfailingly resonant.
Exhibit one: You’ve Got Mail is an update of the 1940 classic, The Shop Around The Corner. And that idea of a romance born of ideas that brings two people who push each other’s buttons together? It’s still really damn charming. Never mind the extraordinary swoon factor of exchanging sweet little letters.
Which brings us to exhibit two: this is a Nora Ephron picture. I repeat, this is a damn Nora Ephron picture. There is a reason the woman was a legend in her own time. Her voice is singular, distinctive and a joy to watch on the screen. Her words bring the love letters to life and we all get to swoon as voiceover from Hanks and Ryan floats across scenes of idyllic New York and the would-be lovers.
“Don’t you love New York in the fall? 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.”
“I hear nothing, not even a sound on the streets of New York, just the beat of my own heart. I have mail. From you.”
“The odd thing about this form of communication is that you’re more likely to talk about nothing than something. But I just want to say, that all this nothing has meant more to me than so many somethings. So, thanks.”
We could go on — about the sensibilities born of classic literature, about the very human emotions and desires in play, about the classic appeal of Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks as performers — but instead, we’ll rest our case here. We have some pencils to buy.
Oh, and may we humbly suggest that if you like this movie, even a little bit, you click here and brace yourself for a time warp.