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Dustin Putman

Dustin's Review
You've Got Mail (1998)
2 Stars

Directed by Nora Ephron
Cast: Meg Ryan, Tom Hanks, Greg Kinnear, Parker Posey, Jean Stapleton, Dabney Coleman, Steve Zahn, Dave Chappelle.
1998 – 118 minutes
Rated: Rated PG (for mild profanity).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, December 20, 1998.

"You've Got Mail," the third showcase that has brought together the winning team of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan (after 1990's odd-ball "Joe Vs. the Volcano" and 1993's charming "Sleepless in Seattle"), obviously seemed like a no-brainer for director Nora Ephron and co-writer Delia Ephron since what they have basically made this time around is a ho-hum, mostly sloppy retread of many far more intelligent and witty romantic comedies.

Set in New York City, Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan), for many years, has run her late mother's quaint children's bookstore called "The Shop Around the Corner" (which was the title of the original James Stewart picture, for which this film is based on). She has a writer boyfriend (Greg Kinnear), but has been recently sending honest and intimate e-mails over AOL to a man that she first met in an Over 30 chatroom, but they have decided to keep their identities anonymous. What Kathleen doesn't know is that her secret e-mail buddy is actually Joe Fox (Tom Hanks), who has his own hyper and giddy girlfriend (Parker Posey), and is about to open a more high-profile book store on the same street, threatening Kathleen's business. The gimmick for the film is that these two people have grown to love each other over the internet, even though they are feuding in real life.

"You've Got Mail," is a sleek, well-photographed romantic comedy that actually compliments the beauty of NYC more than the actual stars of the film, since this story has been done far too many times before, and much better, at that. One of the biggest problems with the film is that there didn't appear to be any attempt to make an original film. No doubt, Ephron assumed that she had it made once she cast Hanks and Ryan, and so she forgot to add a quality screenplay. Watching the film, I didn't get any sense of excitement, urgency, or suspense involving the question of if Hanks and Ryan would get together at the end, since I knew for a fact that they would. Far too many times, I predicted dialogue and even what would occur in the next scene, and most of the time I was right on the mark. If an audience member can predict what the characters are going to say before they actually say it, then you know you're in trouble.

I will not criticize Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, since both of them have proved to be talented actors, and Ryan is simply too cute for words, but that is the exact problem. They are too good to be wasting their time in such a tried-and-true Hollywood formula. "Sleepless in Seattle" was also predictable, but that film was more sound and sharp in its writing and I cared about the characters more. Why not shake things up a bit and add a little creativity to the mix, instead of making what is basically an inferior remake to "...Seattle?"

Rarely have I seen so many charasmatic supporting characters wasted so blatantly as they are in this movie. Greg Kinnear has the most chance of a developed character, but he disappears towards the middle and there is no mention of him again. Parker Posey, in her first notable role in a big-budget film, is punished with the emotionless "bitch" role, and is not even given one scene where she and Hanks simply talk. It's a shame Ephron decided to cast such a wonderful, fresh actress, only to throw her to the curb. Meanwhile, Dave Chappelle and Steve Zahn make no impression whatsoever with roles that might as well have been classified as extras.

Maybe I am making it sound like I hated "You've Got Mail," which isn't the case. The film was never boring, but also never what I would consider entertaining. Basically, it just seemed to sit there, and it amazed me how little could be accomplished, even though the running time is overstretched to two hours. Hanks and Ryan, like always, have a great deal of chemistry together, and I liked their characters. I liked a few of the lines of dialogue (when Hanks enters a store, he introduces the two children he is with as his aunt and brother). The soundtrack of popular pop songs from the 70's, 80's, and 90's were fun to listen to. Everything seemed in place for a charming, and I was hoping, imaginative, romantic comedy, but to no avail. Nora Ephron may have hit the jackpot with "Sleepless in Seattle," and I am also an admirer of her underrated 1994 comedy, "Mixed Nuts," but "You've Got Mail," ultimately, fails to add anything new or worthwhile into the now worn-out romantic comedy genre.

©1998 by Dustin Putman

Dustin Putman