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by Jim Wunderle

"You've Got Mail"

Directed by: Nora Ephron

Starring: Meg Ryan, Tom Hanks, Parker Posey, Greg Kinnear

Rated: PG

A critic no less than Pauline Kael called "The Shop Around the Corner," "Close to perfection one of the most beautifully acted and paced romantic comedies ever made in this country."

High praise, and deservedly so.

James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan were in top form as co-workers who bickered constantly on the job but were secretly in love. Unbeknownst to each other, they were pen pals who met through the "lonely hearts" section of the local paper.

Through a series of romantic letters, the couple had fallen hopelessly in love; a proposal of marriage was on the horizon. All of this was going on while they were at each other's throats at work.

In the age of e-mail anonymity and online "chat rooms," this premise was just begging to be remade.

Who better to remake the movie than the team composed of writer/director Nora Ephron and stars Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan?

This is the team that scored big with another romantic remake "Sleepless in Seattle" was copped from "An Affair to Remember" and the public simply adores Ryan and Hanks as a couple.

Even cynical curmudgeon-ly critics love the pairing, and I have to admit, it works better in "You've Got Mail" than it did in "Sleepless in Seattle."

The Hanks/Ryan team is just so... watchable, that the audience is hooked from frame one.

To be truthful, this film was a little too much "Hollywood style" for me, but even so, I was rooting for the characters all the way.

I laughed, I cried, I was amazed that their computers never crashed and not once did they get a busy signal from America Online. And who cares if the proper grammar and what the graphics actually say is "You have mail"? That's nit-picking.

Hanks plays Joe Fox, a third-generation Fox whose family owns a huge discount bookstore chain. Cheap prices and coffee bars ... that's what the people want. Who cares if the minimum-wage clerks have probably never even read a book?

Kathleen Kelly does, that's who.

Kathleen is the character played by Meg Ryan. She owns a little bookstore on the upper west side of Manhattan called The Shop Around the Corner.

Her mom founded the business, and Kathleen inherited it. She takes a lot of pride in a place that has brought the joy of reading to several generations of New Yorkers.

She's also a bit lonely, finding herself distanced from her political writer boyfriend (played perfectly by Greg Kinnear).

In an online chat room she meets another lonely soul known to her only as NY152. Her online name is Shopgirl, and the two fall into a sort of "cyber love."

Kathleen is faced with the fact that the huge corporate bookseller, Fox and Sons, is moving into the neighborhood. She's optimistic at first but soon realizes that her business is doomed. People want cheap prices and coffee bars, not well-versed staff who know books cover to cover.

She and Joe Fox meet, have a brief flirtation and then become adversaries. On the advice of NY152, Kathleen goes on the offensive, launching an anti-big-business campaign, getting newspaper and TV coverage and generally stirring up folks' emotions.

This doesn't really help her bottom line, however. As we know by now, people want cheap prices and coffee bars.

Desperate and falling more in love with her cyber-pal, Kathleen agrees to meet NY152 face-to-face. Joe shows up, realizes what's afoot and tries to play his hand accordingly without letting "Shopgirl" know the truth.

The last act of the film is the best, with Joe trying to figure out a way to get Kathleen to fall for him as "himself" while also wanting to let her know he's the online pal with whom she's so enamored. Hanks and Ryan pull this sort of thing off flawlessly, and Ephron's writing is witty without being trite.

Many times big box-office success stories don't exactly add up to pleasing aesthetic film values, and vice versa. The best romantic comedy of the year is still "Living Out Loud" which didn't set the ticket booth on fire.

But "You've Got Mail" comes in a close second.

This movie will no doubt do a heck of a lot of business.

Fellows beware: The "chick flick" of the season is "You've Got Mail." If you have a wife, girlfriend or just a female acquaintance, you will see this film.

Relax, even though there aren't any explosions, martial arts or car chases, it's a great movie.

(Jim Wunderle works at Associated Video Producers and is a Springfield free-lance writer and musician.)

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