Remember when AOL was king? And everybody had dial-up? How time flies, and how things change.
Anyway, if the hallmark of a good romantic comedy is that when it's over, you feel your eyes have teared up and you didn't want the movie to end, then 1998's "You've Got Mail" is a good romantic comedy. For this high-definition Blu-ray edition, Warner Bros. have not only included everything from the previous special-edition DVD set, they even include a second disc, the DVD of "The Shop Around the Corner," the film that inspired this one. Good things get better.
"You've Got Mail" has everything going for it. You've got two of the most personable actors in Hollywood, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, in the starring roles. You've got screenwriter and director Nora Ephron ("Sleepless in Seattle," "Julie & Julia") at the helm. You've got a supporting cast of Greg Kinnear, Parker Posey, Dave Chappelle, Dabney Coleman, and Jean Stapleton. And you've got all those wonderful New York City Upper West Side locales. What's not to like?
To be sure, "You've Got Mail" is a romantic comedy in the traditional sense, meaning you're not going to find much different about it than you see in most better examples of the genre; and you've got an awfully lot of saccharine sweetness in the film, but it's a good kind of sweetness, a gentle, loveable, delightful sweetness. So the whole affair is easy to enjoy unless you're dead set against romances in the first place or dislike charming, sentimental, unassuming little films out of hand. Don't worry; the Wizard will give you a heart.
Nora and Elia Ephron based their screenplay for "You've Got Mail" on two previous films, "The Shop Around the Corner," 1940, as I've said, and its musical remake, "In the Gold Old Summertime," 1949. Hanks gets the part formerly played by Jimmy Stewart and Van Johnson, and Hanks is tailor-made for it. Hanks has become today's Jimmy Stewart common guy. Leave the Gary Cooper Everyman heroics to other people; Hanks is the average Joe we can all readily relate to. However, here he plays something a little more than an average Joe; he plays Joe Fox, what a surprise, a multimillionaire owner of a fancy Barnes & Noble-type, super-bargain discount bookstore that opens up near a little, independent, children's bookstore owned by Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan). Still, despite Joe's money and despite the fact that both his father and his grandfather are ruthless businessmen, he is still your average Mr. Nice Guy at heart. It just takes a while for us (and for him) to see that heart. Kathleen, on the other hand, is all sweetness and light, a woman a little hard to believe she's so kind and caring.
Since Joe's super store is driving Kathleen's little shop out of business, understandably Kathleen and Joe take an immediate dislike for one another. But that's par for a romantic comedy. While the two principal characters in a standard romantic comedy must instantly fall in love, they must not realize it until the final scene. In the case of Kathleen and Joe, little do they realize that they are on-line computer pals, falling in love without ever having met in person. Thus, the movie's tag line, "Someone you pass on the street may already be the love of your life."
The story line is slight, almost inconsequential, as the relationship between the two characters is foremost. Joe represents the insensitive, big-time conglomerates that are devouring the individuality of small companies. Kathleen is the old line, family businesswoman caught in the grip of economic forces too overwhelming for her to combat. He is a modern sort of guy, ambitious, self-absorbed, drinking Starbucks' coffee, and espousing a personal philosophy gleaned from "The Godfather." She is a naive, sincere innocent, cute as a bug's ear. How these two completely different personalities finally connect is the subject of the movie.
Of course, it helps their situation that Joe's current girlfriend (played by Parker Posey) is a shallow, mean-spirited book editor (how any such airhead could ever become a big-time book editor is anybody's guess) and that Kathleen's boyfriend (played by Greg Kinnear) is a nerdy, self-righteous newspaper writer in love with his own words. So we can dispose of these contrary interests early.
It seems to me a little unfair, though, that Joe should find out about Kathleen's real identity much sooner than she finds out about his; and it was a little hard to believe that he would make such a major change of attitude as he does in so short a time; but, hey, that's the movies for you. It's a romantic comedy. Anything can happen.
For this Blu-ray disc, WB's video engineers use a dual-layer BD50 and an MPEG-4 AVC codec for the transfer. Colors are quite rich and deep, as are black levels, which tend to obscure detailing a little in darker areas of the screen and make facial tones a bit heavy. Nevertheless, overall definition is quite good, and a touch of natural print grain provides the movie with a realistic, film-like texture.
The sound comes to us via lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Since most of the soundtrack is dialogue, the center speaker gets most of the attention, and the remainder of the audio is almost entirely music. Director Ephron uses an abundance of pop tunes from the past few decades to set the mood for various scenes and to underscore various plot developments. We hear songs from artists like Harry Nilsson, Bobby Day, Louie Armstrong, Roy Orbison, Randy Newman, Stevie Wonder, Carole King, Billy Williams, Sinead O'Conner, and Bobby Darin and they tend to vary in quality when played back in surround sound. Some of them fill the rear speakers with pleasantly ambient information; others remain rooted firmly in the front channels. However, they are an important adjunct to the film, and it's good to see that Warner Bros. retained the DVD's music-only track for those who wish to enjoy only the tunes.
The primary bonus item in this Blu-ray set is the addition of a second disc, the DVD of director Ernest Lubitsch's "The Shop Around the Corner," the 1940 movie that inspired "You've Got Mail." The Lubitsch film is an appealing romantic comedy starring Margaret Sullavan, James Stewart, and Frank Morgan. The DVD comes with its own extras, including several featurettes; two theatrical trailers; thirty-three scene selections; English and French spoken languages; and English, French, and Spanish subtitles.
As for the Blu-ray, Warners provide the same things they included in their two-disc DVD edition. Up first is an audio commentary by director Ephron and producer Loren Shuler Donner. Next is a featurette, "Delivering You've Got Mail," twenty-five minutes, containing a discussion of the movie with its writer/director, Nora Ephran, and its stars, Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, the filmmakers commenting on the movie and comparing it to the original "Shop Around the Corner" and such. After that is another featurette, "You've Got Chemistry," twenty-six minutes, where we get to see many famous romantic cinematic pairings in clips from their pictures: Bogart and Bacall, Rooney and Garland, Powell and Loy, Flynn and de Havilland, Tracy and Hepburn, Hanks and Ryan, etc.
In addition, there's a brief "HBO First Look: A Conversation with Nora Ephron," self-explanatory, and "Discover New York's Upper West Side," which takes you to and explains many of the film's locales. It must be great for NYC tourism. However, what you won't find on the tour is a Barnes & Noble store. The bookseller refused to have anything to do with the film. Can't blame them for not wanting to be the bad guy. Finally, there's a music video with Carole King, "Anyone at All," and a music-only audio track.
The extras conclude with thirty-three scene selections; English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Polish spoken languages; French, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, Danish, Norwegian, Polish, Romanian, Swedish, and other subtitles; and English, German, and Italian captions for the hearing impaired.
I like "You've Got Mail" quite a bit, although I find "Sleepless in Seattle" more original and more enterprising. Regardless, the Wife-O-Meter prefers "You've Got Mail." So, take your pick. If you like the one, you'll probably like the other. They are both tempting, harmless confections that are sure to please.