I recently watched “You’ve Got Mail” with my teenage brother, and (after explaining to him what dial-up was) I realized that not only is “You’ve Got Mail” the BEST romcom ever, but it also has several pertinent pieces of wisdom that are still relevant today.
Inspired by Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, this ‘90s romcom stars Meg Ryan (in my favorite role) and Tom Hanks. Set in NYC, it follows the turbulent relationship between small children’s bookstore owner Kathleen Kelly and corporate bigwig Joe Fox. While we might all know how it’s going to end (it is a romcom after all), there were some parts of the movie that really struck me as worth pondering.
“She Was Enchanting”
Enchanting. Charming. These words run throughout the movie to describe Kathleen (and her mother). How does Kathleen Kelly express her femininity in such a magnetic way? She smiles. She remembers people’s names. She’s nurturing and maternal, generous and sensitive. She’s always well-dressed. She’s energetic and living a purposeful life. She’s like the daisies she loves so much – friendly, pretty, and cheerful. These are qualities that any woman can possess and exercise (even if we can’t pull off her adorable short hair)!
The Shop Around The Corner
"When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does." As a former English teacher and a book lover, I couldn’t agree with Kathleen’s statement more. The books we read, the characters we encounter and the examples they set, and even the illustrations we take in all shape our imaginations, our thoughts, our choices, and our dreams. Literature can influence and form people in a way that nothing else can, so surround your children (and yourself) with good books.
Those Savage Comebacks Don’t Come without Consequences
We’ve all probably found ourselves in both situations of not being able to come up with a witty comeback and also saying exactly what we want to say when we need to say it for the ultimate sting. And like Joe and Kathleen, we’ve also probably experienced the regret and remorse that inevitably follow the temporary satisfaction of retorting with a cutting zinger.
It’s like what Kathleen says, it doesn’t matter what someone has done to you, that’s no excuse to be mean back. Instead, rise above the situation and respond politely and with class. Don’t let another person’s choices or emotions dictate your own.
When Joe Fox is trying to reconcile with Kathleen Kelly after putting her out of business, he tells her, “It wasn’t personal, it was just business.”
Kathleen dismisses this excuse, saying, “All that means is that it wasn’t personal to you. But it was personal to me. It was personal to a lot of people. And what is so wrong with being personal, anyway? Because whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal.”
Kathleen ran her business with a personal touch. Her bookstore was practically a part of her family (she started working there at age 6 before inheriting it from her mother). She came to work every day. She read at story time. She remembered her customers and their names. She was friends with her employees. Kathleen embraced the personal in her life – and it was part of what made her so charming.
Kathleen said her mother didn’t just sell books but also “helped people become whoever it was they were going to turn out to be,” and I’d argue that Kathleen’s personal touch did the same, even if she was too humble to see it.
Being Brave, Even When It Doesn’t Feel Like Bravery
Kathleen believes she’s living a valuable life, but she still questions her bravery. I think she ends up being brave in two big (and very different) ways.
Firstly, she is brave to close her business, even if it doesn’t feel like bravery. She decides to let go of what she knows and her old way of life, and opens herself to new (unknown) opportunities and a new trajectory for her life. That’s always scary, but Kathleen chooses to do so, instead of sinking with the ship.
Secondly, Kathleen had the courage to forgive Joe Fox for putting her out of business and to give him another chance. That brave second chance develops into a friendship that concludes with a marriage proposal and a kiss in an NYC park.
A Healthy Relationship for a Romcom
The stereotypical romcom has a whirlwind timeline that would almost never play out in real life. One of the main reasons I love You’ve Got Mail is how their relationship develops. Not only do Kathleen and Joe get to know each other over a long period of time, but they get to know each other in various ways and through various mediums. First, it’s just through email, but their communication builds emotional intimacy. Then they spend time together in person and have fun together. They even fight and see the worst of each other. Over the course of their whole relationship with each other - known, unknown, personal, business – they build a foundation of knowing who the other person is and develop a friendship and love that overcome some significant hits (plus, all this is done without sex!).
If you’re in the mood for a romcom, you can’t go wrong with the engaging classic You’ve Got Mail. It’s the best for a reason.
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