When choosing their “Staff Pick” films, Development Director Allison Frady and Assistant to the Executive Director Linzy Beltran both jumped at the chance to bring a cynical look at Nora Ephron’s 1998 movie, YOU’VE GOT MAIL. With their shared disdain for cliché endings and unrealistic internet romance, they knew their votes both sat squarely in the Anti-Love ballot box. After much discussion they settled on a comparison of the Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks classic with its early predecessor, THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER.
I think it’s safe to say that most of my generation, whatever we’re called (Z?,Pepsi?) is more likely to have seen Nora Ephron’s YOU’VE GOT MAIL than the 1940 movie it was based on: Ernst Lubitsch’s THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER (trust me; I’m an expert in official polls). I’ll admit it; I watched THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER for the first time this weekend and was angry at myself, the world and my parents for not showing me this movie sooner.
Teaming Margaret Sullavan and the precious Jimmy Stewart for the third time as an onscreen duo, the film is based on the 1937 Hungarian play Parfumerie by Miklós Lázló. The love story begins with Alfred Kralik (Stewart) answering a newspaper ad in the paper and blossoms via the letters delivered to PO Box 237. Unbeknownst to him, the “most wonderful girl in the world”, Miss Novak (Sullavan) walks into the little shop looking for a job.
Long before Sam and Diane (Cheers) or Jim and Pam (The Office), this love story includes the most sexual of tensions, a cheating scandal, an attempted suicide and a story of success for a man who initially doesn’t see himself worthy of the woman wooing with words. Doesn’t sound like a movie made in the 40s, now does it?
Fast forward to 1998 and the idea of love being found through your computer and already you’re light years away from THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER, no matter how progressive it seems. The glitch in Nora Ephron’s YOU’VE GOT MAIL is its masquerade as an update to the classic love story when all the while it ends in the same old clichés.
When you study the plot of YOU’VE GOT MAIL you realize it’s already been done not once but twice. The first time in 1940 with THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER and then with the 1993 romance SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE. It’s not that YOU’VE GOT MAIL is anti-love just because it’s a remake of two separate movies, it is anti-love because what two people fall in love when they have so much disgust with each other and build a relationship over AOL email? Sure online dating is currently all the rage in finding Mr. or Mrs. Right, but in 1998 the idea seemed farfetched.
The classic love movie plot occurs in YOU’VE GOT MAIL: two people are in current relationships that they can’t stand while interacting (in this case emailing) with their perfect companion. Inevitabily, their relationships die out and now both are single and ready to mingle. Coincidence? I think not. All the while the two email love birds are having a work battle over book store space (one named The Shop Around the Corner), with no idea they’re hating the one they love. In the midst of battle they seem to start falling for each other, but what about NY152?? As if you didn’t know how the movie was going to end, the two decide for the last time to meet face to face. Sure enough with the beautiful, sweet dog running in the background amongst bright colored flowers, beautiful plants in the middle of NYC- they discover that they got the best of both worlds, love in real life and over the internet.
On this day before Valentine’s Day, decide for yourself which film is better… but we think the decision is already made. Sorry YOU’VE GOT MAIL (or SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE 2: THE RETURN OF TEG RYANKS), your creepy love story is solely saved by Tom Hanks’ late 90s charm and Meg Ryan’s normal lips. YOU’VE GOT MAIL has only one thing on THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER and that is the Internet. But even then, it’s just AOL.
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