We will call this one, You’ve Got Mail (1998), a coming back to earth after making the leap to National Lampoon’s Van Wilder (2002) following my slog through the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. You can also think of it as yours truly landing on the next familiar title to come up on one of my streaming services, and with which I had some experience not tinged with disgust. Perhaps that is too strong a word, though there are some movies that do fill me with that feeling. Those are the ones that I try to avoid, even for you, my loyal fans. There are some that have appeared here on The Legionnaire, though I will not remind you of them. I do not want to think about them. I would not place any of The Pirates of the Caribbean films in that category, as tempting as it would be to do so. You’ve Got Mail is far from it, and is actually a cute little movie that is good for most any audience.
We start in You’ve Got Mail, this tale of email pals, with one half of the pair, Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan). She is the owner of a small, family-owned bookshop in Manhattan. Her boyfriend is a moderately successful columnist named Frank Navasky (Greg Kinnear), who is also a firm believer that modern technology is going to be the death of civilization. Kathleen is unfazed by Frank’s “holier than thou” attitude on such matters, and at night sneaks off to log on to America Oline (AOL, and an indication of the dating of this movie considering she uses dial-up) as “Shopgirl” to exchange electronic missives with “NY152.” Obviously, this is a secret of hers. The other end of this is corporate bookstore executive Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) of Fox Bookstores, and he, too, is hiding their correspondence from his girlfriend, the vain Patricia Eden (Parker Posey). For the time being, Joe and Kathleen are vowing to keep things impersonal, even though it is evident that they are more into each other than their current significant others. The catch to all this occurs when Joe’s company plans to open a new superstore around the corner from Kathleen’s shop. At first, Kathleen takes the opening of a major competitor in stride, even though there is legitimate fear that it will take away customers. One day, Joe is left in charge of his half-brother and aunt, both of whom are vastly younger than him thanks to his father and grand-father’s indiscretions, and they end up in Kathleen’s shop. Joe wants to see the business for himself, and the kids are there for the story time. The two meet and there is an instant attraction, which makes Joe want to disguise his real identity. They also do not know that they have already been talking to each other via email. Not long thereafter, Kathleen and Frank are invited to a Thanksgiving party that is also attended by Joe and Patricia. Joe and Kathleen recognize each other, but it is here that Kathleen finally realizes who Joe is, the proprietor behind the store threatening her business. In their emails, Kathleen vents her frustrations to Joe, which steepen when Fox’s store officially opens and sales sharply decline. Joe advises a more aggressive approach. Kathleen launches protests, she enlists Frank’s help in writing a story about her shop, and she has a sale in the hopes of getting more profits. None of her efforts seem to be stopping the inevitable downward spiral towards closing. Hoping to get support from her email pal, she proposes that they meet. Joe agrees, but he brings along his assistant and friend Kevin Jackson (Dave Chappelle). When they arrive at the coffee shop, Joe sends Kevin to look through the window in order to see who is sitting waiting for him. Kevin is shocked to find Kathleen at a table facing the entrance, copy of Pride and Prejudice a flower before her. Now Joe knows who she is, but she is still clueless when he walks in and shocked to see her nemesis striding up to her table. She is not kind, impatient for the arrival of “NY152.” When she gets home later that night, she sends a message wondering where he was, and at first Joe gives excuses and their correspondence continues. This comes as Kathleen is forced to close her doors for good. Further, she breaks it off with Frank, citing good feelings between the two, but not love. Coincidentally, Joe’s relationship with Patricia ends when they are stuck in an elevator and he sees her true, awful colors. Joe is now free to pursue Kathleen, though he has yet to admit that he is “NY152.” He tries to woo her with the hope of seeking forgiveness for being the main person responsible for the closing of her store, but more to get her to fall in love with him rather than the supposedly faceless person behind the emails. Of course, their electronic exchange is still a tool for him, and eventually he puts forward that they should give meeting another try. The appointed day and time proceeds spending time with Joe, and when they part company you can see her debating the move. Hence, it makes it all the sweeter when she gets to the spot they agreed upon in the park and finds that it had been Joe all along.
Yes, You’ve Got Mail has a great, romantic ending. It gets to it without having to resort to crude humor or overt sexuality. That is great in a Catholic sense. The Catechism is pretty clear on these matters. On that note, the Fox familial situation is not the greatest, but it is gratifying to see that Joe, at least, does not want to follow in father or grandfather’s philandering footsteps. The film also works on a deeper Christian level. There are a lot of directions to go, such as loving thy enemy and trusting in something bigger than yourself. The first of these is easy enough to see given the tone of the relationship between Joe and Kathleen before they discover each other’s identities. The second is not told from a Christian perspective, but you can see Kathleen model it as her life falls apart. As she faces the prospect of losing the shop, she receives some sage, if humorous, advice from her longtime friend and patron Birdie Conrad (Jean Stapleton). As Kathleen pours out her sorrow to Birdie, the older woman tells her that her younger counterpart is marching into the unknown armed with nothing. We do the same thing in our own lives, if not always on the same level. Luckily, we are not unarmed, even if it may feel that way. I have heard nuns talk about entering the religious life as jumping off a cliff. In the literal sense, when you do so there is nothing between you and going splat on the ground. From a faith perspective, we are lifted by God, and we shall not dash our foot on a stone as it says in Luke. Kathleen appears to have that trust, and God works it out for her to show her that Joe is everything she hoped “NY152” would be. Again, the cliff metaphor works here in conjunction with Kathleen’s actions. Her jumping into the unknown, of relinquishing control, is like leaping off a cliff and landing in a vat of pillows. In other words, it allows for miracles to happen. That sounds pretty comfortable to me.
There is a charm to watching You’ve Got Mail besides the romantic stuff. Who remembers having to rely on dial-up modems in order to connect to the internet? There was the staticky parts, followed by the high-pitched, siren like noises and squealing, all in the hopes of logging on to something that we today take for granted. Films like this one are good reminders of why we should not be this way, which goes beyond the specifics of internet ease. As such, this is a recommendation.