I wasn’t old enough to have caught You’ve Got Mail in the cinemas, so I came across the film via a trailer on another VHS when I was of an age when romantic stories were high up on on my list of desirable criteria for a story. I was and I still am a complete romantic. You’ve Got Mail is by far my absolute favourite romantic comedy, and it comes from my view, the golden age of romantic comedies produced by Hollywood. In truth I can’t stand the vast majority of chic-flicks made these days; the last I liked was 27 Dresses in 2008.
What keeps bringing me back to You’ve Got Mail is the brilliance of the script and the performance of Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, whose chemistry at every point is perfect. The premise of the film is simple; in real life Meg and Tom’s characters are business rivals, who fight each other. They both though have a secret; they email a stranger who they feel connected to more than they do their partners and family. That stranger is of course each other.
While the technology is now dated and might puzzle younger viewers who might not have heard the sound of dial up internet, the premise of the film was in its day quite revolutionary, and came long before Bridget Jones was exchanging instant messages with Daniel Clever. It asks the questions as to whether it is infidelity when it is over the internet? A question that even now is not as clear cut as you would imagine.
However, the connection the two characters make to each other is romantic not sexual. They exchange messages that touch each other souls and minds. When the characters are referring to each other in real life, there is some emphasis on looks and appearance, especially of Meg Ryan’s characters, even to the annoying point when they are trying to meet up that Tom Hank’s character has a friend check out his potential date for her appearance because he cannot bare the thought of this beautiful creature that he already knows quite personally being outwardly ugly.
That incredibly annoying moment aside, the reason I love this film is the utter lack of emphasis on the sexual aspects of their relationship. They are two people who are falling in love with each other because of their personalities, their likes and dislikes, their viewpoints on the world. They fall in love because of the beauty of each others souls. It’s romantic and almost asexual in its approach to a relationship between two people. And despite the advances in technology it is utterly timeless. It is an ideal I suspect that a lot of people no matter their gender or sexual orientation greatly desires; a people in this world who understands them.
One of the reasons why it works so well is because it is character driven. The two main characters each have two sides to themselves, the real life with the complexities of their relationships in being each other’s rival, and the other side, the one they share via emails, which goes deeper. The plot itself is actually a modern on Pride and Prejudice, a book referred to in the film as a favourite of Meg Ryan’s character. They are essentially Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, who have to overcome their pride (which they both have) and their prejudice (which they both have) in order for their meeting as the exchangers of emails to be able to work. Without the resolutions of their real life conflict, you wouldn’t be able to have the happy ever after.
The grip the creators had over the twisting of the plot was iron-clad, and an excellent example for anyone to study in order to learn how to write scripts, and I cannot think of a more perfect romantic comedy.