Of all the Meg Ryan/Nora Ephron movies that did so big in the nineties, I like the one that was the least successful, You’ve Got Mail. Probably because it’s about reading and bookstores: literature. No…it’s about romance, really. But in this movie, the characters actually spend time in the same movie frame together, so that’s a plus.
But when I say I like it, I have to add: I’ve seen it precisely twice. Once when it first came out, and once, last week. Last week sold me on it.
And it wasn’t the great charm and cuteness of the movie that got me, because that stuff tends to get my back up, like the movie is trying too hard to win me over (which is probably why I haven’t gone back to watch it again for fourteen years.)
The movie would have lost me altogether because it floated along being very superficial and almost completely lacking in real pulse pausing moments — there were a few emotional moments, but nothing gut wrenching. It was all very…nice.
But two scenes saved it. One was an almost throw-away scene sequence, and the other was the penultimate scene.
Tom Hanks, the hero, has been having an illicit affair with Ryan, his business rival, via email, only she doesn’t know who her email lover is — they’ve been conducting an anonymous affair. Hanks warned her by email that telling your enemy exactly what you think of them usually makes you feel like a heel immediately afterwards. Ryan, who is too perfectly sweet for words, can’t conceive of being able to conjure the right words at the right time. A few scenes later, when she meets Hanks in person, though, she does find the right words and she lets rip…and sits, stunned, as regret and self-loathing trickles through her. “That’s what he meant,” she says — or something like that, and Hanks, who had been enjoying teasing her mercilessly, sobers and nods, as he knows exactly what’s she’s thinking. It’s a rare moment of emotional simpatico between the two when the rest of the movie is frothy banter that lays weightlessly on the surface.
The penultimate scene is the real kicker of the movie, even though the hearts and flowers scene comes right at the end.
This scene, the one right before the “I love you” scene, is the only gut wrenching, pulse pausing scene in the whole movie…and it’s a doozy, because Tom Hanks has set Meg Ryan up to think that she’s got to pick between two men: The email lover she thinks she’s in love with, who she is going to meet in person in a short while, or him — the flesh and blood arch-enemy, who has evolved into a man she actually loves. And just before she goes off to meet email lover, Hanks asks the question: Could she, would she love him, instead, if things were different?
Oh wow! You can see the angst and sheer desperation in her face, as she tries to find something to say in response. She’s genuinely between a rock and a hard place.
It was that moment there that saved the entire movie for me.