Why I Hate the Film You've Got Mail

No, not because it’s a re-re-make of a 1930s James Stewart film, The Shop Around the Corner, or because it’s a remake of a later film with Judy Garland which word for word is The Shop Around The Corner, nor is it because it involves AOL and e-mail.
The premise of  two people who dislike each other intensely, but unknowingly with online names via e-mail fall in love is even ok, IF the business the two have in common was not selling books.
Tom Hanks character is a personified large chain store, and the Meg Ryan character owns a children’s independent bookstore put out of business by Tom Hanks. I don’t care what sweetness one writes in an e-mail, nothing could endear me to someone who deliberately parks a chain store in a place where he knows MY small business will be destroyed and goes about it without a bit of conscience.

I read an interview with director/screenwriter Nora Ephron, who said she got the idea when a B&N moved into her neighborhood and the residents complained because they knew it would destroy Shakespeare and Company, the long standing indie. She seemed to feel it was much ado about nothing, claiming that those who complained readily took to B&N once the store was there, loyalty to Shakespeare not a factor.

I worked for Murder Ink, a store owned by the same people as Shakespeare, but had no real contact with them. I do know that they carried almost everything, and the booksellers knowledgeable, but a bit snooty.

Still, the reason for customers falling into a large chain store was not lack of friendliness, it was clear dollars and cents. Who is going to pay full price for a brand new hardcover when they can get it for a large percentage off?  And once inside, they can peruse until they find the elusive classic for school, or the cookbook they want to give Aunt Ida, it’ll just take far more time to locate the books than it did at Shakespeare. Because handsellers will not be walking the aisles in an attempt to help a customer.

So, Meg is out of her beloved store, her dream destroyed, her income gone, the employees scattered, yet, all is forgiven because he writes nice mail?

And within here lies the great fault of the film. Ms. Ephron does not understand book lovers and bookstore owners. We are a different breed. Owning and selling the written word is not a business as much as a passion, a need, a love. Maybe a butcher losing her deli may be ok with love letters, maybe a boutique owner could live without selling the gaudy dresses, but deprive a book lover their independence and ability to share that love, and you have an enemy for life.

Realistically, when Meg found that Tom was the bastard behind the conglomerate who wiped out her existence, she would have shoved a discounted remainder down his throat, or shoved it somewhere else uncomfortable.  Communicating one’s passion for reading through the sale of books is a vocation, a life style choice, a life sacrifice, because no one, no one, in indies goes into business for money.

Of course the argument made is this is free enterprise, free market, the strong survive, the weak do not. All true. But there is something to be said for monopolies being broken. When we allow one entity to consume all others, the landscape will eventually be full of nothing but Walmarts, yes chain bookstores, your days are numbered too. This is how free enterprise unregulated monopolies work.

And by the way. The B&N that took out not one but two indie bookstores? Closed. Yep. The giant on the corner, 3 story, chock full of  bargains closed. It simply wasn’t generating the profits expected of a satellite chain store.

So, the part of Manhattan that once had two nicely supported Shakespeare and Company stores, no longer has even one chain within walking distance.

And Tom and Meg live happily ever after?

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8 Comments

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  • I was right. You put this miserable excuse for a romantic comedy in its place. Tom Hanks claims to always play nice guys. Well, in this movie he was definitely the villain, and Meg Ryan didn’t have the backbone to walk out on him.

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  • I watched the movie once and didn’t care for it chiefly because it was a girlie flick and had no dragons or swords in it. The only thing I remember about the movie is the ‘title’ with the AOL voice sounding out throughout. I don’t even remember it having book stores involved.

    – Well guess what. I’m not going to torture myself by re-watching it just to see if you are right. I’m going to trust your judgment and leave it at that.

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    • Good, go watch a great classic film instead!

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  • Ok, I’ve never seen the film (not a huge fan of the genre!), but since opening up my own used bookstore in 2007, it does seems to come up every so often. Usually followed by statements of shock and horror that I haven’t seen it, and then the urging to rush out immediately and obtain a copy because it will most assuredly become my favorite movie of all time because after all….I own a bookstore JUST LIKE MEG RYAN DOES IN THE MOVIE!! So Diane, I have to thank you for giving me the fair warning not to add it to my Netflix queue! It sounds like anything but a happy ending. Romantic comedy? I don’t know…giant chain stores putting indies out of business sounds more like horror to me, at least in my world!

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    • Meg Ryan is from my home town and no one has EVER suggested I watch this movie. Of course this may be because people know my idea of a fun movie is Sharktopus. (note I said “fun”, not “good”)

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      • LOL, well supposedly You’ve Got Mail is good and fun. I disagree, obviously.

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    • LOL, How typical of people not to understand why someone who has a small bookstore wouldn’t find it fun to watch a film where that little store is wiped out. Sigh.
      Besides that fact, I didn’t find it amusing or the romance very nice–but as I mentioned before, I don’t like the original, so that’s a big factor.
      A great movie to see–nothing to do with books but superb?
      The More the Merrier. Spectacularly funny.

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  • Enid, I agree, Tom Hanks character is just plain awful. I’m not in love with Meg either–the whole film misses the mark for me.

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