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.



  1. How do you feel about Crazy, Stupid Love?

    (Re: You’ve Got Mail, one of my professors did a shot by shot comparison of that to the movie it’s based on and tore it to pieces, specifically the directing. Whatever. Given your recommendation, I will check it out sometime.)


    1. I have been meaning to check out Cray, Stupid, Love some time. Have been hearing mixed reviews. How did you feel about it?

      Not terribly offended or surprised by your professor. I’m attached to the film because the films you watch as a child (like this movie kind of says about books) stays with you for the rest of your life. You’ve Got Mail’s strengths mainly lies in its script. Ephron is a far more gifted writer than she is a director, but I do think she gets good performances out of her actors.

      And there are always some natural negativity that goes with remakes, but I try to judge most films on their own merits. And in You’ve Got Mail’s case, I saw it before The Shop Around the Corner, which is, like I said, a great film that deserves to be seen as well.


  2. Lovely review, I’m a fan of this film as well! I like THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER a bit better, but have always found YOU’VE GOT MAIL to be incredibly charming and rewatchable. It’s the kind of movie I love to watch with my mom, since we both appreciate Meg Ryan and literary references equally. It is very rooted in its time, reminding me that there was a period where huge chain bookstores were dominating book retail, but as you’ve said, it manages to be timeless entertainment.

    And yes your last sentence has now unintentionally made me sad. At least we’ll always have this and the other great films Ephron left us.


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