Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Film Studies

Newfangled Computers and Old-Fashioned Romantic Comedy: You've Got Mail's Futuristic Nostalgia

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Film Studies

Newfangled Computers and Old-Fashioned Romantic Comedy: You've Got Mail's Futuristic Nostalgia

Article excerpt

Résumé: Tom Hanks et Meg Ryan interprètent deux propriétaires de librairies rivales de l'Upper West Side de New York dans You've Cot Mail (ì998), la comédie romantique de l'ère Internet de Nora Ephron. Les opposants ne réalisent pas qu'ils sont aussi des amis virtuels, aussi chers qu'anonymes, échangeant des confidences de plus en plus intimes et qu'ils sont destinés, par les conventions narratives de la comédie romantique, à consommer leur romance dans la vie réelle tout comme dans la vie branchée avant la fin de la dernière bobine du film. Cet article questionne la façon avec laquelle ce qui n'est d'abord qu'un terne conflit économique peut se transformer en un récit de comédie romantique à succès, proposant que ni une nostalgie toute de rose teintée (pour le film de l'âge d'or hollywoothen dont iI est une nouvelle version), ni un futurisme techno-déterministe (mis en évidence par la place qu'occupe le dispositif de messagerie électronique) ne peuvent en rendre compte. Plutôt, le film d'Ephron déploie ultimement aussi bien le futurisme que la nostalgie, de façon sélective, pour rendre le cadre narratif plus actuel, et donc plus acceptable pour l'audience, et faire une intrigue romantique plus plausible.

You've Got Mail, Nora Ephron's 1998 romantic comedy for the Internet age, pairs Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan as rival bookstore owners in New York City's Upper West Side. As the promotional tagline notes, they are "enemies in real life ... in love online." Hanks's Joe Fox is overseeing the establishment of a new Fox Books megastore retail outlet just around the corner from the boutique children's bookshop owned by Ryan's Kathleen Kelly. Amidst the noise and bustle of the opening and ascendance of one store and the failure and closing of the other, the warring protagonists do not realize they are each other's anonymous email "dear friend," exchanging ever more intimate confidences, and fated by the conventions of the romantic comedy genre to consummate their romance IRL (that is, "in real life") as well as over the wires by the end of the final reel. The unlikelihood of this resolution is remarked on by Joe Fox himself, when, slyly referring to Kathleen Kelly's email penpal (whom he has learned to be himself), he asks: "You can forgive this guy for standing you up [on a date], but you can't forgive me for this little thing ... of putting you out of business?" But she does forgive "this little thing," despite the near-stunning odds against such a reversal, and the film indeed ends with the aggressive discount bookseller kissing the unemployed former store owner. This essay questions how such a stark economic conflict can plausibly be transmuted into a successful romantic comedy narrative, proposing that neither a rose-tinted nostalgia nor a future-facing computer-inflected utopianism can fully account for it.

You've Got Mail dramatizes the bookstore wars of mid-1990s New York City, and, more broadly, the overrunning of individual retail enterprise throughout North America by rapidly expanding chains, a process blamed for hollowing out city centres, imposing reduced autonomy and benefits on ever-more contingent labour, and sprinkling across the continent a homogenized dusting of Borders book shops, Starbucks coffee outlets, and Wal-Mart discount stores. Kathleen Kelly nicely sums up the threat posed by Joe Fox's chain store and others of its ilk: "Do you want to come out of the subway at 72nd and Broadway and not even know you're in New York City?" Dramatizing the growing pains of global brand capitalism does not seem a likely setup to a romance plot. Linda Hutcheon bluntly notes, "If the present is considered irredeemable, you can look either backward or forward."' But You've Got Mail does both, marketing itself as not only a new kind of computer-enabled love story in the digital age, but also a recognizable genre film in an established cinematic tradition. Specifically, You've Got Mail offers a carefully-scripted adaptation of a well-known golden-age Hollywood romantic comedy on the one hand, and, on the other, a Utopian and celebratory characterization of (certain kinds of) new computing machinery and services that are meant to save us from ourselves. …

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