Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) runs The Shop Around the Corner, an independent children's book store in New York. Her store specializes in personal attention and service...but it is being threatened by the new Fox Books superstore which is opening down the street.
Kathleen seeks comfort from an online friend she met in a chat room on the internet. She anonymously falls in love with this charming, complete stranger. But, unbeknownst to her, her online love is none other than her arch-rival, Joe Fox, of Fox Books fame. And neither does Joe Fox know that his online paramour is the troublesome Kathleen Kelly, chief crusader against the presence of his chain bookstore.
Both Joe and Kathleen are currently involved in relationships. Kathleen is attached to a self-obsessed columnist (Greg Kinnear), and Joe is living with a hyperactive publisher (Parker Posey). But they are relationships without passion...unlike what Joe and Kathleen find with each other online.
Nora Ephron deftly takes the formula from Sleepless in Seattle, and makes a few minor substitutions (such as, instead of An Affair to Remember and The Dirty Dozen, You've Got Mail uses Pride and Prejudice and The Godfather to illustrate the dichotomy between the sexes). The end result is familiar, yet pleasant.
The reason the film uses that formula is simple: it works. Both Ryan and Hanks cutely emit waves of niceness wherever they go. It's hard not to like their characters, and you instinctively want them to be together.
The film's overall plotline is inconsequential in the grand scheme of things...it's merely there to provide enough obstacles so Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks don't hook up too soon. But for an inconsequential plotline, it is handled well. The film smartly avoids painting either Ryan or Hanks as the villain in the bookstore battle (though the film does seem to favor the "independent" side). And there are plenty of interesting little subplots that keep the whole thing from becoming tedious.
In addition to good performances by Hanks and Ryan, the film boasts a plenitude of above-par supporting turns. Kinnear and Posey are likable as the alternative romantic interests...even though they're not perfectly matched with Ryan and Hanks, we can understand why they start the movie together. Steve Zahn makes a good impression as an unusual employee at The Shop Around the Corner. Dabney Coleman and Jean Stapleton aren't overwhelmed with things to do in their minor roles, but are a welcome, recognizable presence.
You've Got Mail distills the essence of Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. It's a cute, funny, nice and ever-so-appealing romantic comedy.
[PG - some language] (WB)