Film Pop: You’ve Got Mail

Year: 1998
Director: Nora Ephron
Stars: Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Greg Kinnear

Oh, the ‘90s.  A time of Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan and an internet connection that came through the phone line.  That’s right, kids:  dial-up.

The draw of Ryan and Nora Ephron, with whom he’d teamed up for 1993’s Sleepless in Seattle, was obviously strong enough to  bring Hanks back to a light-hearted role following more serious award-winning performances in Philadelphia, Forrest Gump and Apollo 13 in the meantime.  You’ve Got Mail is a movie I saw for the first time about a year ago, and had no apprehensions regarding watching it again.

Despite this film and its very apprehensive handling of the internet coming across as overwhelmingly (and delightfully) ‘90s (E-mail? What kind of loser uses that?), it’s actually an interpretation of Miklós László’s 1937 play Parfumerie, which was adapted twice previously in the ‘40s, combined with a number of elements from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (which itself features significantly in the plot).

ygm dvdRyan stars as Kathleen Kelly, the owner of “The Shop Around the Corner”, a small, independent book shop in New York City.  Although in a relationship with neurotic journalist Frank (Kinnear), Kathleen is in daily correspondence with a mystery man via that internet thing (because it’s apparently not cheating if you don’t know their name).  Meanwhile, Joe Fox (Hanks) is an executive of Fox Books, a giant bookstore chain about to open a new outlet just around the corner from The Shop Around the Corner.  Romantically attached to a fellow executive, Fox is similarly engaged in online intimacy with a girl, about whom he knows nothing.  You can probably see where this is going.  Kathleen and Joe enter a feud in real life while inadvertently advising each other online on how to deal with their respective rivals in person.  They soon agree to meet up, but when Fox discovers the identity of his confidant he stands her up, instantly changing their relationship from one of intimacy to deception and manipulation.  He uses his new found position of power to get to know the real Kathleen, naturally leading up to the ultimate reveal in the hope that he has done enough to win her over.

It’s a highly enjoyable film, as Ephron’s offerings tend to be.  The famous relationship between Hanks and Ryan, in its third and final cinematic outing, is as warm as ever even though the two characters have been put in a position where they’re obliged to hate each other.  The relationship between the two makes the movie, but it’s also very well written both in terms of story and adaptation.

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Which two did you think I was talking about?

I’m a big Tom Hanks fan, and so while this isn’t exactly one of my favourites of his, that’s no real criticism.  It’s also interesting for me to notice that You’ve Got Mail basically seems to mark the end of Meg Ryan’s peak, while Hanks has of course continued to impress (although perhaps never quite living up to the standards of his golden decade).

Overall of course this film was hardly groundbreaking, but nobody ever suggested it was meant to be.  It’s a sweet, funny film about two people who are probably destined for each other if only they can stop the world getting in the way.  This is a tried and tested formula, and when you add the personnel we’re blessed with here then success is inevitable.

My rating: 7.5/10

Film Pop: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Year: 2011
Director: Stephen Daldry
Stars: Thomas Horn, Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is the Oscar-nominated tale of a young boy coping in his own peculiar way with the death of his father in the September 11th attacks. Thomas Schell (Hanks) is always setting little challenges for his nine-year-old son Oskar (Horn) in order to teach him about life. After Thomas is caught attending a meeting in the World Trade Centre on “the Worst Day”, young Oskar is thrown into personal chaos, rejecting the affections of his mother (Bullock) to go on an epic adventure he believes his father intended for him. He is soon joined in his quest by his grandmother’s mysterious mute “renter” (Oscar nominee Max von Sydow), and the two journey throughout the five boroughs of New York in a seemingly impossible search for answers. They encounter a whole host of interesting characters (most of whom share the name Black) and learn a lot about life, each other and themselves.

It’s touching in parts, but a lot of the action seems unnecessary and perhaps the two-hour plus running time is a little too much for what it is. It’s also slightly annoying that, having no idea what the film was about beforehand, from the two names at the top of the DVD case I was expecting a little more Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock. Instead I was made to sit through two hours of a somewhat annoying kid and this had me a little put out throughout. Nevertheless, despite the somewhat heavy subject matter the film displays an optimism in the face of adversity that can only serve to inspire even if it is a little hard to relate to some of the issues Oskar seems to struggle with.

This film marks the ninth of ten Best Picture nominees from 2011 that I’ve now seen, coming somewhere in the middle of a decidedly mediocre bunch (Midnight in Paris, the one I most wanted to see all along, has still managed to elude me and will probably let me down when the time comes). It was adapted from the novel of the same name by Jonathan Safran Foer, and as usual I haven’t read this (yet) so can’t pass judgement on that side of things. The theme of “child comes to terms with loss of parent” isn’t exactly an original one, but the approach is interesting and the emotive setting will certainly reach out to some perhaps more than it did to me.

So Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a little long and a little fantastical but I’d say it’s definitely one worth watching. At its best it’s highly moving, even if these moments are buried slightly too deep in dawdling drama, and at its worst it would be harsh to call it a bad film. Despite the feeling that I was tricked into watching it, it held my attention and came close to moving my emotions, which isn’t the easiest thing for a film to do. It’s not quite something I expect to watch again any time soon, but at least I don’t regret watching it in the first place.

My Rating: 6.5/10