Flawed but smart
It's Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan directed by Nora Ephron, who also wrote. You may note this is the same combination behind the succesful Sleepless In Seattle some years before, and if capitalizing on success has ever occurred to anywhere on the planet, it's in the minds of studio execs in Hollywood.
Now, I'm not much of a fan of Sleepless in Seattle. Someday, I'll put my complete thoughts down in a review, but for now, let me just say that keeping the protagonists apart until the end made the whole thing like the longest awkward first date in history, no matter the outcome. So I wasn't eager for a rehashing of the same material, with an AOL-centric view of the Internet to boot.
Hanks is Joe Fox, of big box retailer Fox Books, in the vein of Borders or Barnes and Noble. His chain's newest store is opening in direct competition with The Shop Around The Corner, owned by Meg Ryan's Kathleen Kelly. This is more than just a passing reference to Ernst Lubitsch's 1940 film, where our protagonists fall in love anonymously by postal mail, but hate each other in "Real Life". Here, our couple-to-be only know each other by their screen names, but keep running into each other as business rivals. On top of that, they each already have live-in partners.
With a premise like this, there's a lot we already know about what is coming. The writing is smart as far as the main storyline goes. Getting these two together is a tricky game, and the ending is earned without cheap tricks or too much sentimentality (yes, there is some, but that is to be expected).
The problems come when we look beyond the ending. The number of coincidences that set up the story is right on the edge of credibility. Placed in the first act, it's possible to overlook them, but they still stand out to me. But more than that, the use of peripheral characters is very weak, especially those who are protagonists are already romantically entangled with at the start - they are tossed aside way too easily, with no real consequences, other than to make way for Ryan and Hanks to make nice at the end. It's one thing to be focused on the main plot, but it's another to be blind to any others.
The charming third act does much to alleviate these issues. To me, this film is light years beyond Sleepless In Seattle, which was caught up more in the idea of romance than in romance itself. While there are some similarities in approach, You've Got Mail really does reveal the possibilities of unlikely love.
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