You've Got Mail

By Michael Elliott for The Christian Critic

In this highly paced, technologically advanced society in which we live, there are still three little words that reign supreme in the world of romance. No, we're not talking about "I love you." The three little words of today are: "You've got mail." At least this is the premise of the most recent offering by the same team that brought us Sleepless in Seattle.

You've Got Mail operates on two levels. Based on the play, The Shop Around the Corner, by Miklos Laszlo (which later became a movie starring Jimmy Stewart), it follows an electronic "pen-pal"-type flirtation between Joe Fox (Tom Hanks, Saving Private Ryan) and Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan, Courage Under Fire). At the same time, it follows the business rivalry and personal animosity which builds between the two. She owns a small but charming children's book store which for 46 years has operated on New York City's west side. He is the owner of the megastore, Fox Books, which has just opened a few feet away and threatens to put Kathleen's shop out of business.

Because their e-mail relationship is an anonymous one, (they use the "Internet names" of "Shopgirl" and "NY152"), when they meet as Joe and Kathleen, they are unaware that their rival, whom they can't stand, is also the person with whom they are falling in love.

This is the third time that Mr. Hanks and Miss Ryan have been teamed in a romantic comedy. The first, Joe vs. the Volcano, was unmemorable. They struck pay dirt with the second, Sleepless in Seattle. You've Got Mail lies comfortably somewhere between the two. Starting slowly, it never draws us in until Joe begins to actively "court" Kathleen. Regardless of how romantic you try and make a computer, there's an impersonal air about it that deadens whatever sparks are trying to fly off the screen.

Mr. Hanks has an every man quality about him that makes him an appealing choice for this genre. Men can associate with him and women are drawn to him. Even though Joe is a "ruthless" businessman, it is clear that there's also a softness to his nature. He is a good man.

Miss Ryan is a national treasure. With her doll-like face, precious smile, and award-winning personality, she is, in a word, irresistible, as is the character she plays.

Writer/Director Nora Ephron lets us continually see the potential of a dynamic relationship between the two characters while at the same time, focusing on the things which keep this couple apart.

One of those things is the fact that both of them are involved in a superficial relationship with other people. Kathleen, with Frank (Greg Kinnear, As Good As It Gets), a muck-raking journalist who collects electric typewriters. Joe, with Patricia (Parker Posey, Clockwatchers), who he describes as having the ability "to make coffee nervous." However, neither one of these relationships pose much of an obstacle in keeping Kathleen and Joe apart. The biggest hurdle they must overcome is within their own minds as they must reconcile the fantasy of their Internet friend with the reality of its flesh and blood counterpart.

It should be said that not every Internet-based relationship will turn into this kind of Cinderella story. Cyber-friends "Airdog" and "Li'l Suzy", after chatting on-line, exchanging pictures and engaging in cybersex are more likely to discover that one is a 17 year old acne faced skateboard wizard while the other is a 42 year old accountant named Marvin.

Sadly, there are too many people who thrive on the anonymity which the faceless Internet allows. They prey on the weak and gullible. You've Got Mail presents a cleansed and purified version of a medium that is home to just about every perversion that exists. Like any other tool, if it can be used, it can also be abused. And the Internet is abused more than most.

In a charming segment at the beginning, after Joe and Kathleen have logged off their computers, they leave their homes and go out into the streets of New York. Passing within a few feet of each other, their paths continually cross during the day, yet they remain completely unaware of the other's existence.

As Christians, our identity as God's children also can remain invisible and unnoticed, if we so allow. How many other brothers and sisters in Christ do we pass by without a second glance? How many people who hunger and thirst after the righteousness of God do we fail to see because we don't take the time to renew our minds to the end that we manifest power? Christianity is more than a once-a-week church going chore. Living according to God's truth is a 24 hour/7 day a week responsibility. Quench not the spirit. Leave no doubt as to our standing in Christ. We must make ourselves shine as His lights in this world. That will require letting go of our anonymity.

Copyright The Christian Critic. Used by permission.