Tuesday, November 15, 2011

You've Got iPhone?

Sunday was a bad day. It really was. Needing something to cheer myself up with in the evening, I went to one of my never fail good mood charmers. Popping Nora Ephron's zippy, zeitgeist baiting 1998 romantic comedy, You've Got Mail, into the DVD player and it was like all my problems went away. It's perhaps uncool to admit, but I absolutely love this film. I really do. I don't think it's accidental that this movie's place as one of the last mainstream rom-coms that actually soars in both the romantic and comedic departments coincides with the the premiere of Sex & The City on HBO. The Meg Ryan/Julia Roberts/Sandra Bullock schtick that had proven to popular throughout the late 1980s and 1990s was replaced by raunch and a broader take on the mechanics of "love" that we continue to see on screen today. You'd never see Meg Ryan getting diarrhea in a wedding dress! Ryan and her ilk was overtaken in the genre by the likes of Sarah Jessica Parker, Kate Hudson, Cameron Diaz and Katherine Heigl, who more or less churn out films that are hateful, dumb and demeaning rather than frothy, charming and rooted in a deep well of genuine human desire for companionship and longing. As good as some of those more risque films have been, I continue to have a soft spot for the likes of You've Got Mail and, while we're at it, My Best Friend's Wedding, While You Were Sleeping, It Could Happen to You...

I have known that I was in the minority in liking it as much as I do, but I was still surprised when I read today that TotalFilm ranked it as one of the worst romantic comedies of all time. Their reasoning appears to be that it is too of it's time, but if that's your biggest criticism then you may as well not bother watching anything from before 2000. And in a troubling example of NOW! disease, the Total Film staff suggest the film would have worked better if the filmmakers had "at least wait(ed) until Apple invents the iPhone, so the characters can check their messages on the move and not spend the film peering into their computer monitors."

Yeah, ummm... and Halloween would have worked out better for everyone if Laurie Strode had an iPhone to better call for help, but it didn't so that seems like lazy retroactive criticism if you ask me. Would they like a Blendr based rom-com to be so achingly modern? Yikes, no thank you. If anything, You've Got Mail is more relevant today than it was in 1998 what with so many people having online dating profiles and the stigma attached diminishing. Despite its clunky technology. The website's list is generally spot on in that movie of the movies it mentions are indeed quite bad, although I did get a little mad at seeing another Meg Ryan movie, the 1995 Kevin Kline co-starrer French Kiss, but at least they chose that one and not Addicted to Love from 1997, which is commendable for it's radically bizarre and angry twist on that French-set film and features one of Ryan's most interesting performances.

Meg Ryan sure has changed since You've Got Mail was a huge global box office hit in 1998 and so too has much of the stuff found within in, but so has All About Eve, you know? It's easy to point to the antiquated modem dial up sound effects (humourously re-used in The Muppets, just fyi!), clunky laptop computers and Meg Ryan's flippy, Rachel-from-Friends inspired bob, but as I rewatched it this most recent Sunday night, I found some really interesting stuff in the business side of the film's plot and watching it 13 years after the fact makes for quite a curious experience.

In You've Got Mail we have a small, privately owned children's book shop run by Meg Ryan's Kathleen Kelly that is is under thread of being kicked out of its somewhat bohemian, somewhat otherworldly Upper West Side district due to the big conglomerate book store run by Tom Hanks' Joe Fox. Yes, they're enemies but they're destined to be with each other and they are actually already in love via the internet thanks to AOL webchat and email. Aah, modern life! Isn't it electric?

What I found interesting while watching this is how little things seem to have changed on one hand and yet also how much they have on the other. Nora Ephron chose to set You've Got Mail amongst the boutique streets of the UWS and seemed to foretell the struggle that would eventually take over not just similar locals, but entire cities around the globe. And, what's even more interesting is that this big multi-storey book shop that serves as many danishes and coffees as it does give out advice on which book to purchase would probably be going out of business right about now. Conversely, "The Shop Around the Corner" that Ryan's Kathleen runs would probably have itself a workable niche that would allow it to remain in business. My knowledge of this area of New York City is limited - my duel visits to the isle of Manhattan didn't include much time spent in the area, but I wish I had because it looks absolutely wonderful - but if a few shops like this can survive in my home city of Melbourne then I'm sure New York City is doable, too. I doubt Hank's Joe Fox would be destitute and bankrupt, but with the recent collapse of Borders' retail stores (I still receive emails from them that feel like ghostly spirit messages from beyond the grave, like some sort of Polterbook or Book Store Cemetary horror tale) as well as Angus & Robertson/Dimmocks/etc stores shutting up shop all over the place there is certainly fertile ground for a sequel. A sequel that couldn't possibly be made what with Meg Ryan's tortured face and Hanks' inability to be charming anymore (I liked Larry Crowne more than most, but he seems to have lost that barometre for good), but a hypothetical sequel nonetheless.

Groan and roll your eyes all you like, but You've Got Mail has such an intoxicating buzz to it that I just find hopelessly irresistible. Despite the occasionally broadness with which it's played by Ryan and Hanks, the ideas within it are ultimately very relatable with quippy dialogue courtesy of the Ephron sisters, Nora and Delia, and gorgeous, sunny look thanks to cinematographer John Lindley. New York's Upper West Side is as much a character as Kathleen and Joe and it gives a helluva performance! It's not quite Sleepless in Seattle, which burrowed surprisingly deep into the sadness of its characters to find honest romantic gold, but not many films from this era are comparable to that 1993 Oscar-nominated gem. I also liked that Greg Kinnear's character, a newspaper columnist who is media savvy enough to know TV is probably where his career should be heading, is in love with the antique typewriter that he chooses to work on. Surely this minor character trait predates the hipster nostalgia movement by at least half a decade, and probably longer.

In fact, writing all of this has put me in a cheery mood all over again and has made me want to watch it yet again. Sigh. I love this movie!

1 comment:

FranklinBluth said...

I love while you were sleeping!!! Unfortunately Sandra bullock is now making 'gems' (note:sarcasm) like all about steve and the proposal. Yuk.

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