You’ve Got Mail: A Classic Romance Comedy

In a few years we’ll be far enough away from the 90’s to declare the  films of that era “classics.” And when I say classic films, I’m referring to those in the vein of Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Casablanca. It’s only a matter of time until the romance comedies of the 90’s (and there were dozens of them) should qualify for such an honor.

For my part, I nominate the 1998 romance comedy You’ve Got Mail for induction into the Hall of Romance Comedy Classics. How could you go wrong with a 90’s rom-com starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, whose plot revolves around the early days of instant messaging?

The Plot of You’ve Got Mail

You’ve Got Mail is an updated version of  the 1940 movie by Ernst Lubitsch, The Shop Around the Corner, which stars Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullivan. The story of You’ve Got Mail, like so many rom-coms, involves two people who don’t see eye to eye.

Set in New York City,  Tom Hanks plays Joe Fox, whose family owns a chain of huge bookstores similar to Barnes and Noble. Meg Ryan plays Kathleen Kelley, the owner of a  struggling, small independent bookstore that she inherited from her mother. Joe Fox happens to walk into Kathleen’s bookstore with his father’s children (from one of his many wives) for the shop’s regular children’s book reading.

Joe and Kathleen hit it off at first, but soon Kathleen finds out that Joe is part of the company that threatens to put her out of business. So naturally she begins to resent his presence. The conflict between the giant megastore and the smaller bookstore figures prominently through the first 2 thirds of the plot, though I won’t give away exactly what happens. Joe and Kathleen develop a frigid acquaintance, though it eventually evolves into a more meaningful friendship.

These events all take place between scenes of Joe and Kathleen chatting over AOL instant messenger online. Of course, neither one knows the true identity of the other behind the screen name. Kathleen calls herself “Shopgirl” (a reference to the movie, The Shop Around the Corner) online while Joe names himself “NYC152.”

Joe gives Kathleen business advice, while Kathleen gives Joe relationship advice.The two quickly develop a strong online relationship, confiding in each other about all sorts of intimate details without revealing too much about their specific lives.

It should also be noted that both are in complete unsatisfying relationships amid all these chats: Kathleen is dating a pretentious writer and Joe is seeing a wealthy woman who clearly isn’t suited for him. Throughout the movie we see how Joe and Kathleen obviously have more chemistry between their online chats than they do with their significant others in real life.

Eventually the two agree to meet up and talk to each other in person, but I won’t go any further in the plot so I don’t spoil anything!

Why It Deserves to Be Called a Classic

You’ve Got Mail has all the classic trimmings of a classic chick flick. Joe and Kathleen are two people destined for each other, but separated by circumstance. You find yourself rooting for them from the beginning of the movie. The whole online chatting context of the movie does a great job of proving how well the two would get along without the baggage of their circumstance. It’s a narrative device that I like far more than the typical rom-com when only the audience, not the characters, know that a couple is meant to be.

Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in this movie are one of the most charming star-crossed lovers in the history of romantic comedies. That fact alone should make it worthy of being called a classic. If you don’t believe me, check it out for yourself.

Have you seen You’ve Got Mail ? Let me know what you thought of it!

This guest post is contributed by Barbara Jolie.  She welcomes your comments at her email.

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