"Love Letters in the Wire"



(B, Ro, Pa, LL, S, A, D, M) Light moral worldview where kindness, compassion & trust triumph over impersonal business practices, mixed with strong romantic & some pagan elements; 9 mostly mild obscenities & 4 exclamatory profanities; no violence; no sex but at the start two unmarried couples live together & a mention of “Cybersex,” but no discussing or describing “Cybersex”; no nudity; alcohol use; minor characters smoke; and, in jest, woman asks her deceased mother what to do.

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Can lightning strike twice? Can Nora Ephron re-capture the magic she formed with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE? The answer is a resounding yes. Very attractive, effortlessly acted, wittily executed, and more about earning someone’s trust than romance, YOU’VE GOT MAIL is an excellent re-make of the Jimmy Stewart movie THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER.

Hanks plays Joe Fox, an aggressive business man who has built an empire of book superstores. Joe lives with the ultra-competitive, cutthroat, heartless book editor Patricia Eden (Parkey Posey, crossing over to the majors from her turn as “Queen of Independent films”). Though they share some things in common, it is a loveless relationship.

Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) owns “The Shop Around the Corner” specializing in children’s books, has story hour for the children and has built a surrogate family around her co-workers including the elder Birdie (Jean Stapleton) and George Pappas (Steve Zahn). Furthermore, she continues living with a passionate, erudite newspaper columnist, Frank Navasky (Greg Kinner), but they too carry no spark of romance.

Via the joys of the electronic age, these two start an anonymous e-mail correspondence, which slowly builds to affection and respect. He calls her Shopgirl and she calls him NY152. They eventually confide about everything to each other, except their identities and actual occupations. Off-line, Joe opens a book superstore on Manhattan’s Upper West Side near Kathleen’s shop, and the two online friends become fierce competitors in real life. With its discounts, huge inventory and espresso bar, Fox Books seems certain to put Kathleen’s cozy neighborhood store out of business. When ShopGirl tells NY152 about business troubles, NY152 tells ShopGirl to “go to the mattresses” with her competition, which means FIGHT!

Eventually, Joe discovers Kathleen’s identity and becomes crestfallen. He doesn’t know how to reconcile this passionate, witty and kind ShopGirl with the guarded Kathleen who hates Joe and everything for which he stands. With courage, charm, creativity, and time, Joe must figure out how he can reveal himself and reconcile himself to her without losing her forever.

This movie has all the ingredients for a genuine hit. Hanks and Ryan again perform with flair and ease. Although here their relationship isn’t quite as fresh as the first time around, the difference is minimal. Ephron’s script displays great insight and humor into the human condition, and she makes all things beautiful. The best of New York is enhanced, while the worst of New York is ignored. Even the break-up scenes between Joe and Patricia and Kathleen and Frank are happy.

Pure entertainment, YOU’VE GOT MAIL focuses more on Joe trying to restore his image to Kathleen than it does on romance and love. Thankfully, it doesn’t linger on-line as ShopGirl and NY152 “chat,” something which could have been slow and visually boring. Instead, it focuses on their lives outside the Internet and their eventual reconciliation.

Recent studies have shown that the Internet can become addictive, and that those who use it often claim to be lonelier than those who do not. Thus, the Internet is not a substitute for human interaction, and YOU’VE GOT MAIL suggests this important moral truth.

Though relatively clean compared to many other adult comedies, it does have a few obscenities, implied unmarried couples living together and a brief mention of consulting a dead relative. But, in the end, it is patience, tact, love, and empathy that save the day, and save the relationship. It is two people, talking face to face and building trust, which brings the happy ending. YOU’VE GOT MAIL may be powerful words to the Internet user, but “you’ve got relationship” is even better.

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