Letters and books

Your mom's favorite movie: Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in You've Got Mail.

You’ve Got Mail is one of the movies I enjoy writing about and I have written about it far too many times. I would prefer to enjoy writing about a more intellectual film, but this is a film that holds a special place in my heart, as silly as it sounds. Writing about it is almost as delightful as watching it and it is, of course, one of the most delightful films I’ve ever seen in my life. I never get tired of watching it. I would instantly stop channel-surfing the moment I see the movie on TV, even though I already own it on DVD.

It’s one of those movies I watched on my 13-inch television set. I discovered a lot of great movies on that television set. I remember watching You’ve Got Mail on CBS by myself on a Saturday night. It was one of the most pleasant movies my 10 year old self has ever seen. Saturday night movies got me excited about the movies and You’ve Got Mail was no exception.

When I first saw this film, I thought all romantic comedies were just as charming, lovely, and funny. That kind of set me up for disappointment because I soon realized that most romantic comedies are awful and lame. I realized that the romantic comedy genre relies on formula and there’s nothing wrong with relying on formula, but most romantic comedies do such an obnoxious job with the formula that it becomes rather unbearable to watch. I don’t care if it’s predictable, I just want to see a great story unfold. Movies, books, and plays are often about the journeys rather than the destinations.

In time, I actually began to question my adoration for You’ve Got Mail. The second time I watched it was eight years later, while channel-surfing on prom night (a prom I didn’t go to, clearly). I was skeptical: I remembered really liking it when I was 10 years old, but I also thought the remake of The Parent Trap was the greatest movie ever made at one point (it is a fantastic film, though). My 18-year-old self was clearly a different person, for obvious reasons. I already went through a The Godfather trilogy obsession phase and ardently believed that GoodFellas was the greatest film ever made (I still think it is). I also thought Roman Holiday was the best romantic comedy ever, mainly because well, the ending wasn’t the typical ending of a romantic comedy, but it was romantic nonetheless. And not only that, I had already experienced far too many romantic rejections for a teenage girl and pretty much put happy ending romances on a constant dartboard (oh that’s still me, by the way).

However, I watched it again and loved it. Didn’t care that it had a typical romantic comedy ending. Watched it two more times that year. Eventually bought the DVD.

On paper, it’s a film that should hold no appeal to the current me. I usually don’t care for modern romantic comedies. When I see a romantic comedy, even now, it’s usually through force, and snark and eye rolls ensue and it’s not a pretty sight. People tend to suspect I’m being grossly cynical. But hey, it’s not my fault–you guys picked the movie and it happens to be pure crap.

Other romantic comedies rarely satisfy me in the same way. There is too much of “been there, done that.” And that should have been true for You’ve Got Mail, considering it is a remake, but it feels fresh, and it feels fresh every time I see it.

After a winter break with, sadly, a string of merely good to truly mediocre films, I thought I might as well watch something I know I will enjoy: You’ve Got Mail.

It’s supposedly surprising that I happen to love You’ve Got Mail as much as I do. Well, what can I say, I’m just an occasional sentimentalist and a latent romantic, as most overt cynics often are.

You’ve Got Mail is perfect. It’s this wonderful marriage between sweet classic movie romance and modern movie cynicism. If there were e-mails and an explosion of superstores back in the ’40s, I’m convinced that You’ve Got Mail could have been made in that era. (I know, I know, The Shop Around the Corner, the film You’ve Got Mail is based on, is a charming film in its own right, but it doesn’t quite resonate with me in the same way.) This film has some of the most witty, clever dialogue I’ve ever heard in any film of the past 20 years. The leads are caring and not grossly self-absorbed (and when they are, it’s in a completely human way, rather than the all too common superficial rom-com way), so they are basically people I wouldn’t mind hanging out with on a weekly basis. And they own bookstores.

Because it’s a film about highly literate people. People who care about how words are used in literature, newspapers, and daily interactions, who realize the sheer importance of words and how they can be beautiful things (meaningful e-mail exchanges) or nasty weapons (impulsive insults to your business rival). It’s a film that contains more than just two people falling in love–it’s actually dangerously close to sophisticated social commentary. Of business, of writing, of culture, of technology, of society. It’s a romantic comedy willing to acknowledge that reality indeed exists and it’s a really messy thing that we all must reckon with.

You’ve Got Mail is the greatest romantic comedy of all-time and one of the finest films of all-time because it gets better with multiple viewings. I don’t care what all the elitists say. There is an incredible warmth to this film: to the care-free soundtrack and the richly beautiful New York cinematography. In a world where bookstores and AOL are nearly extinct, this film proves to be incredibly timeless.

I hope that, someday, Nora Ephron writes another movie with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in mind and they agree to do it. And of course, Ephron will also direct.


Greg Kinnear, underrated actor

Greg Kinnear with his movie son, Bobby Coleman (a fine young actor himself) in The Last Song.

Greg Kinnear is one of the finest actors working today, but also one of the most underrated.

This thought occurred to me while I was watching The Last Song, the obnoxiously gooey Nicholas Sparks-penned film that was written specifically for its young star, Miley Cyrus. (This also means I’ve seen every Sparks film adaptation, ever. Feel free to punch me in the face as hard as you can, so I can somehow forget the plot of Dear John.)

Kinnear plays the girl’s estranged father, a guilt-ridden musician living in a beach-side town. He almost gives the movie the kind of heart it desperately desires. Without his performance, the film would have been an empty shell that continuously struggles to showcase Cyrus’ mediocre attempts to be taken seriously as a grown-up actress.

Kinnear’s ability to gently convey his regrets for not being able to be there for his children makes the character as sympathetic as he has to be, but not as grossly sentimental as the movie itself is. His performance doesn’t superficially gloss over a man who pretty much walked out on his family, but shows him as burdened and, well, sad.

And his chemistry with the other actors is, to say the least, graceful. Cyrus is most tolerable when she’s in a scene with Kinnear. Even when I didn’t believe Cyrus’ character would read Tolstoy, I believed that she was the daughter of Kinnear’s character. The scene they share together at the church is actually quite moving–and Kinnear sells it, even when it’s mentioning something as lame as not being there to buy a prom dress for his daughter.

Looking through Kinnear’s filmography, I’m both impressed and disappointed.

Impressed, in the way that I almost forgot that he delivered a delightfully moving Oscar-nominated turn in James L. Brooks’ As Good As It Gets as the homosexual artist who befriends a misanthropic Jack Nicholson. He made his film debut (fresh off from being the host of E! network’s Talk Soup) in Sydney Pollack’s lovely remake of Sabrina, as Harrison Ford’s younger, playboy brother, which he does almost as fine a job as William Holden did in the original and is perhaps, even more endearing than Holden could ever be. (Not to say that Holden was not an endearing actor because he certainly was, but he seemed oddly out-of-touch with some of the fluffier comedic scenes.)

Kinnear has done some great supporting roles: as Meg Ryan’s pretentious journalist boyfriend in (one of the best films ever, no matter what people say) You’ve Got Mail, Ashley Judd’s slimeball boyfriend (the Hugh Grant role in Bridget Jones’s Diary) in Someone Like You, and Abigail Breslin’s father in the ensemble indie charmer, Little Miss Sunshine.

Disappointed, because, why hasn’t this man gotten more mainstream starring roles? He’s starred as the lead in several smaller pictures (Auto Focus, Flash of Genius) and has received acclaim, but why hasn’t Hollywood given Kinnear the opportunity to officially have mainstream leading man status? He’s always paired off with a “bigger” star in mainstream movies (Ricky Gervais, Matt Damon), but he’s always been able to steal the show.

Kinnear could’ve been the alternate Tom Hanks, or, to put it better–had some of the roles Hanks has received over the years. Why isn’t he? And it’s not too late, right?

(On another note, I’m kind of skeptical about the mini-series, The Kennedys. Love Greg Kinnear, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t think he can do no wrong–I mean, I would have never casted him as John F. Kennedy.)

So my question is: When will Greg Kinnear have a script penned with him in mind?

Let the film consume me

So many great films, so little time.

That’s the mantra I live by, the mantra that continuously echoes deep within the trenches of my soul–if I were to be as over-dramatic as the movies often are.

But here lies the irony.

I haven’t seen a film in a while that has truly impressed me. Yes, I’ve seen a couple of good movies in the past few months. I’m certain there is another film out there that I have yet to discover and I am destined to love. I am destined to someday watch it and love it. But the search has gotten tiring.

When I say love, I don’t mean really, really liking the film. (I really, really liked Hugo, for instance, and would happily defend it in the line of fire.)  When I say love, I mean that the film brings me so much joy, not because it has a happy ending (it doesn’t have to have a happy ending), but I play and replay the scenes in my head, even when I’m not watching the film. Just thinking about the film brings me so much joy because it challenges me. It’s the kind of film that speak so much to me as a human being because it understands being human so well.

And I wouldn’t be able to stop talking about the film for weeks. I will just talk about the film to whoever would listen to me. (It’s admittedly more difficult in college because people usually just want you to shut up and talk about more relatable topics, e.g. how being single is detrimental to one’s self-esteem, so we should just hate all the couples.) I miss being at home at 14 years old and talking to my mom about how Michael Corleone is the best film character ever. I want to find another film that I won’t be able to shut up about.

And I wouldn’t be able to stop reading about the film for weeks. Trivia, the novel it was based on, message boards, reviews. I just want to be near that film and have it occupy my entire procrastination process.

Sometimes the film doesn’t even have to great. The film just has to speak to me at a particular moment in time. Sometimes that film just has to be seen with the right people. I’m a sentimentalist.

I remember loving National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets. I saw it recently on television and wondered why I loved it so much and constantly championed it as one of the most entertaining movies I’ve ever seen (because yes, film lovers have a primitive desire for entertainment). I remember talking about it to all my friends, going on the message boards, reading the reviews and crying over them because the critics were just being pretentious pricks (as usual), watching National Treasure because I didn’t see it before I saw the sequel. However, National Treasure 2 is, in actuality, an embarrassingly stupid, illogical mess of a movie. Then, I remembered: I saw it with my dad and I will always love watching movies with him, especially when he provides witty commentary at appropriate moments (this is key).

(I am sad that I no longer see as many movies with my dad because watching movies with friends is not the same. In fact, I don’t really like watching most movies with my friends–I tend to avoid it–unless it’s a fluffy romantic comedy that demands little attention to fully comprehend. I prefer to watch movies alone, or with my dad. )

I want to experience it again. I want to be intoxicated by a film. I want to talk and talk and talk about a film for weeks or even months. I want to be excited about a film. I want to see a film and have the desire to beg people to see it. And it won’t even matter if they see it or not because what matters is that I saw it, love it, can replay those scenes in my head, quote it, and have it be a figment of my existence.

I’m not asking for recommendations. Far from it. There are enough best-of lists to cover me for years to come. I just want to textually express a feeling I haven’t experienced in a long time and hope–fingers crossed–that I will experience once again, and quite soon, too.