You’ve Got Mail (1998) cost $65,000,000 to make and made $250,821,495 at the box office, which is a profit of $185,821,495. Because you’ve likely seen this film—however inadvertently, as an aggregate of distracted fragments—you are hereby complicit in not only its perceived “success,” but the propagation of the romantic comedy industry at large. Joe “NY152” Fox, CEO of Fox Books—whose sweeping representation of corporate evil is likely a mashup between Fox News and Amazon—meets Kathleen “Shopgirl” Kelly in an AOL chatroom, which of course is one gigantically veiled product placement for AOL, which bought Time Warner (whose subsidiary Warner Bros. distributed the film) in 2000 for $164 billion dollars. Of course, that’s just a coincidence. About the plot: a sentimental WASP, one Kathleen Kelly, runs a small bookstore and has employed a few kind-hearted but slow-witted people who have no sense of profit margins. They yap about meaningless trivialities while their customers are stripped from under them by Fox Books. It’s called free-market capitalism. You offer a better product at a cheaper price (or just one of the other) and you win; the consumer wins; everyone wins. Unfortunately, Nora Ephron—who wrote and directed the film, and for whom Kathleen is a political mouthpiece—is a typical elitist liberal who, in the naïve utopia in her mind, imagines a Socialist world neatly paid for by hard-working capitalists in taxes. And it gets worse. In real life; that is, in the ostensible reality of the film, “Joe” ( think Joseph Goebbels, Joseph Stalin) and Kathleen meet at some literary party, immediately despise each other, only to unwittingly go back home to AOL-chat each other as NY152 and Shopgirl. I don’t know what Nora Ephron thinks about marriage, dating, and fidelity, but one cheats with their feelings, not their genitals. NY152 and Shopgirl, who are both in committed and monogamous relationships, basically fall in love with each other; of course, under the auspices of some austere platonic kinship. This narrative problem is easily solved by Ephron, who simply has their respective relationships amicably dissolve (I’d rather be her divorce lawyer than her marriage counselor). If you’re barely hanging on, enter David Chappelle as “Kevin” in his most humiliating sell-out role ever, complicit in the whitewashing of the subdued non-threatening black friend. Kevin here can only offer clichés to Joe in regards to dating. He’s the loyal wing man—strategically inserted into the script to humanize Joe as a non-racist, despite his conservative leanings—who won’t make a cuckold out of Joe with his way huger dong. In a stunning Kubrickian-Lynchian twist of syncopated identity, Joe discovers that Shopgirl is Kathleen Kelly, but not the other way around. He continues to operate under a coordinated fallacy: abrasively acting like Joe in person, while being the witty and evasively charming NY152 online. By the way, Kathleen’s little bookstore The Shop Around the Corner—whose name is vaguely Sisyphean, in the sense that it’s always “around the corner”; that is, a chronic latency embedded in its very name—goes under, leaving the autistic staff to milk unemployment checks while likely working on unpublishable poems. Because the romantic comedy genre, in essence coddling, cannot handle a severe depression, let alone a suicide attempt—a more realistic course for a middle-aged women whose old relationship, prospect of a new one, and career has all plummeted—Kathleen simply gets a bad cold and remains in bed for days. Let’s not talk about the horrendous asexual pajamas, or manic collection of throw pillows. This gives time for Fox to hatch a plan. He tells her online, as NY152, to meet him at the park, thereby ultimately disclosing his incumbency the entire time. “I wanted it to be you so badly,” she says, the last two words sort of tugging at the heart, as we’ve all bargained with God for dreams which never come. They don’t so much make out than nibble on each other’s lips, Ephron’s lens now softened with a thick yellow light laid strong like emotional butter. A relationship begun and sustained on deceit actually has a chance. We can imagine Kathleen Kelly working in the Children’s Books section at Fox Books a few months, or even weeks later, reading them fairy tales, lies.
featured image – Amazon / You’ve Got Mail