Reviews

You've Got Mail

4

Of course it will. Because this is a Nora Ephron rom-com starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. But that's not the point. The point is whether - - following Joe Versus The Volcano and Sleepless In Seattle - - we believe Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks can convincingly delay that first kiss for two whole hours. Again.

They start off with a heap load of obstacles. Both are attached: Joe to Queen Bitch book editor Patricia Eden (Parker Posey) and Kathleen to worthy newspaper columnist Frank Navasky (Greg Kinnear). Kathleen is a drippy romantic who's inherited the shop and a bundle of associated friends from her mother. Joe's a tough businessman (although with a kind heart waiting to be discovered, naturally) from a dysfunctional family. His father and grandfather have a habit of picking out increasingly younger wives, so he thinks nothing of baby-sitting his five-year-old aunt or seven-year-old step-brother. Finally, there's the obvious fact that Joe's business looks set to grind Kathleen's little business into the dirt.

Apart from the same actors, similar characters and same director, there's another reason for the `seen it all before' feeling. You've Got Mail is an update of The Shop Around The Corner, which starred James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan, and has since appeared on stage in musical form. If you needed proof that Tom Hanks is this generation's James Stewart, look no further.

In this updated version, e-mail replaces post office boxes, but the characters also have '90s lifestyles and '90s-style friendships. Kathleen's co-workers are more like family, and joyfully discuss the mishaps that could have befallen her date when she's stood up, eventually deciding that the missing man was arrested for being a murderer. Similarly, Joe looks equally to his father and work colleague Kevin (David Chapelle) for support. Neither make great agony aunts: Kevin suggests that the best reason to take a relationship to "the next level" is so you have an excuse to finish it. And Joe's father remembers his former wives for their skating and dancing talents while Joe remembers them because most were his nannies.

So with confidants like these, it's hardly surprising that Joe and Kathleen seek solace in an "over-30s chatroom". Their e-mails to each other are frank and funny, although You've Got Mail doesn't really come alive until Tom and Meg meet face-to-face on-screen. Before then, it's hard to believe they can sustain another romantic comedy, but after this, all doubts are banished. These are masters in field of slush. Both display perfect comic timing and have turned their characters into people you can really root for. They make the perfect romantic hero and heroine - - despite the fact that Tom Hanks is getting older (weight gain and receding hairline) while Meg Ryan seems to be getting younger (jumping around in pyjamas). Their reasons for not leaping into each others' arms immediately are convincing, and their love-hate relationship full of spicy dialogue. Plus, as with all Ephron comedies, there are loving references to past movies - - this time the wisdom of The Godfather is discussed in detail.

But the supporting cast are too underused, although Steve Zahn, as the spaced-out (but literate) book assistant, is the one to watch: following supporting roles in That Thing You Do and Out Of Sight he's fast earning a reputation as a strong character actor. The other star is New York itself. You've Got Mail was shot on location there, with two book-stores built specially, and the atmosphere of Manhattan as the story moves from autumn through to summer is captured so lovingly, it outdoes any tourist commercial.

There are still people who will avoid a rom-com like a cold-sick sandwich, but for those who can think of nothing better than watching true love run its course, this tale of female meets e-mail is perfect. It's funny, the heroics are appropriately small-scale and, bar an occasionally over-obtrusive soundtrack, every scene is judged exactly.

Verdict:

Ephron, Hanks and Ryan prove that they're in a rom-com class of their own. You've Got Mail is a charming, classy romantic comedy, on a par with Sleepless In Seattle and When Harry Met Sally, with enough humour to hold back the slush.

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