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Review: 'You've Got Mail' delivers

Web posted on: Friday, December 18, 1998 11:48:14 AM EST

From Reviewer Paul Clinton

(CNN) -- Hollywood's tendency to cannibalize itself with the never-ending recycling of old dusty films from their studio vaults and turning them into lackluster remakes continues. But with "You've Got Mail" -- sound the trumpets -- it has turned out to be a pretty good idea. First made in 1940, it starred a very young Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullivan as penpals, was rather cute, and was called "Shop Around The Corner." Then in 1949, Judy Garland and Van Johnson made a mushy musical version called "In The Good Old Summertime." This so-so film's only real claim to fame is that it marked Liza Minnelli's film debut as the baby in the final shot of the film.

Now Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan have taken the romantic bones of this story into cyberspace with Nora Ephron's "You've Got Mail."

Theatrical preview for "You've Got Mail"
Windows Media: 28k or 56k
Real: 28k or 56k

Clip: "You were spying on me"
Video clip: 2.4Mb QuickTime

With the computer age in full bloom it was only a matter of time until Hollywood made a film dealing with e-mail and a cyberspace romance. Hanks plays Joe Fox, an owner of a superchain book store. Ryan is Kathleen Kelly, who runs a small children's book store. In homage to the original film, her store is called "Shop Around The Corner" and has supposedly been handed down through the family from Sullivan's character to Ryan's. But her little store is being run out of business by Joe's megastore. Of course, the two hate each other on sight. Meanwhile they're falling in love on the Internet.

Joe and Kathleen both live in Manhattan's Upper Westside, and they're both involved in lackluster relationships. She's with a scholary newspaper columnist played by Greg Kinnear, and he's living with a hyperactive book editor played by Parker Posey (in a rare appearance in a major studio film). When they meet online, what begins as a casual friendship quickly turns into more.

As they fall in love, they both end their unfullfilling relationships. Kinnear and Posey get very little screen time here. But then Joe discovers that the woman he loves by modem is the same woman who hates him in person. He's now faced with a dilemma. How can he reveal himself and still keep her love?

The formidable talents of Hanks, Ryan and writer/director Ephron (along with her co-writer and sister Delia Ephron) have done it again. First with "Sleepless In Seattle" and now with "You've Got Mail." But let's try to forget Ryan and Hanks first teaming "Joe Versus The Volcano," one of the most miserable movies ever made. But I digress.

Are people who fall in love online:

Way ahead of the times

View Results   

What is it about Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan that makes them so likeable? Tell it to the board!

This crisp romantic comedy hits all the right keys. And it lovingly portrays Manhattan's Upper West side to perfection, and made me very homesick for my old neighborhood. Actually the West Side is almost a character in this film in the same way that Woody Allen uses his beloved city in most of his films.

Is it sappy? At times. Is it manipulative? You betcha. But the sheer likeability of Hanks and Ryan make this lightweight confection work. The prospect of a film about two people typing away at each other on computers sounded very dull to me on paper, but Ephron avoids spending too much footage on the two banging away, on the computer that is, so she has avoided this potential pitfall. Speaking of Ephron -- she has always been a wonderful writer, but her directing has been uneven in the past. With "You've Got Mail" she seems to have hit her stride.

Also, in terms of romantic comedies, this is the only one on the block right now, and it's a surefire date movie. This film also may provide a big boost to cyberdating. But trust me. The chance of finding a Meg Ryan or a Tom Hanks on the other end in cyberspace is nil. If you actually want to met someone from online, be cautious, meet in public, take low expectations, take a weapon and be ready to run like the wind.

"You've Got Mail" opens nationwide on Friday, December 18th is rated "PG" with a running time of 120 minutes.

Warner Bros., a Time Warner property, is a sister company to CNN Interactive.

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