Friday, November 25, 2016

A Movie I'm Thankful For: You've Got Mail

by Adam Riske
You can’t judge a book by its cover.

Oscar bait films can be effective; they prime you into being susceptible to big emotions and deeper meaning, but it’s rare (and therefore more special) when a piece of popular entertainment burrows into your heart and soul. The movie that has always done that for me in Nora Ephron’s 1998 romantic comedy You’ve Got Mail. It’s the type of movie that even its fans would classify as disposable, but it’s always meant more to me than that. Some of that is the film’s doing and other parts of it are circumstantial.

You’ve Got Mail was the first movie I ever saw on a date. I’m always going to remember how I strategically picked this movie to be the “date movie” because it was a romance and I wanted to elicit those feelings out of my date that evening. I was 16, so (as 16-year olds who don’t know what they’re doing do) we went to Applebee’s for dinner and I pulled such rookie moves as writing “left cash on table” on the tip line of the receipt (as if leaving money on the table itself wasn’t indicator enough). In hindsight, the date was very much me playing the part of my dad. My mom and dad would often go to “dinner and a movie” dates and that’s what I thought you were supposed to do.
After seeing You’ve Got Mail for the first time, I resisted it. At 16, I didn’t really enjoy romantic movies mostly because they were “movies for girls.” But something sort of clicked with me in the months after seeing You’ve Got Mail in theaters. I had an urge to want to watch it again. The sad thing was, at the time, I was too self-conscious about this impulse, so I suppressed that feeling for probably about a year. Then the movie started showing up on cable and I would watch it again and again and again. It made me really happy even if I couldn’t admit it to anyone. I loved it in secret and that might be, perhaps, why my love of it grew so exponentially. When you discover the art that you respond to (that falls out of your societal norms) that’s when you begin to learn what defines you as a person. I am a romantic. That has served me very well and very poorly in my romantic relationships throughout the past 18 years, but there’s no hiding it. It’s who I am.
You’ve Got Mail came up again shortly thereafter as I entered college. I majored in Business (Finance to be exact) because I didn’t know what I wanted to major in and I felt like it would be a safe path to take while I figured things out. I learned soon that Finance wasn’t for me, but Marketing was. How I learned that was all thanks to a class I took as a pre-req for business school which was called Writing Analytically. In this class, we watched popular films and were asked to come up with a thesis and examine them based on that point we were trying to make. The whole purpose was to look deeper into “mainstream fare.” It just so happened that the first film we watched as a class was You’ve Got Mail. As I mentioned before, I was already a fan of You’ve Got Mail, but this time I was more susceptible to what deeper meaning there might be to the film. Then it clicked for me and I came up with a thesis, which was that the movie was saying that while traditional male business ideals (i.e. divide and conquer) were the status quo, it was the female business ideals (i.e. personalization, customer care) that were, basically, the key to making us all happy whether we were men or women. I got a B+ on that paper and, in retrospect, it was a bit naïve (being that I was not a “businessman” at that point and I was making broad gender generalizations) but it got me thinking and that was important as clumsy as the execution turned out to be. More importantly, I don’t think without that paper I would have accepted Patrick’s offer to write for F This Movie! It was, in a way, the first seed that eventually grew into a writing tree later on for analyzing movies. It helped me believe that I could do it.

You’ve Got Mail continued to be important to me during business school, too. The atmosphere was competitive and the edge I gave to myself was (and I’m not kidding) constantly asking myself “What would Joe Fox do?” Joe Fox is the male lead in You’ve Got Mail, played by Tom Hanks, and he had everything I thought I would need to become a success in business in my own life. He was cunning, he was personable and he had a good heart. Sometimes you hear a kid playing basketball imagines himself as the next Michael Jordan or LeBron James. Joe Fox was my career idol. After working for over 12 years, I realize how silly and again naïve that was, but now I get a good nostalgic tinge from that. My favorite realization is that being a successful businessperson has very little to do with just walking around with your best friend and not talking about work. Most scenes in You’ve Got Mail where they show Tom Hanks at work he’s just shooting the shit with Dave Chappelle. I might someday get to that level, but I’m certainly not there yet.
So I’m thankful for You’ve Got Mail for many circumstantial reasons, but there’s one now that I am thankful for it for that could only happen at the current state of my life. It’s a movie that gives adults hope that romantic love is still possible in your 30s (possibly 40s; the movie never states how old the Hanks and Meg Ryan characters are). In recent years, I’ve become disenchanted with dating and romance because it’s predominantly online, robbing it of spontaneity, romance and overinflating expectations. It’s like social media, where everything has to fit in your own personal bubble. Now dating (driven by online dating) is more akin to shopping than anything else, and G-d forbid if you or the other person deviates from that precious vision. But You’ve Got Mail is a movie made in the infancy of online dating and sees it as an exciting opportunity. It’s hard to get back to that way of thinking, but maybe it’s time for me to start thinking like Joe Fox again and believe that anything is possible – just this time in romance and not explicitly business.

I hope all of you have a happy and safe Thanksgiving and thank you for your support and friendship over the years. I look forward to many more weeks, months and years of laughing, thinking and spending time together.


  1. Very nice to see Adam writing again, very heartfelt, I will pull back my curtain and admit I am also very romantic, flowers delivered to work at random moments, ect
    I have the same relationship you do here with Notting hill and When Harry met Sally, even Love Actually is my every year Xmas movie
    Why men and women can't be friends because the sex part always gets in the way is one of my favourite conversation topics

  2. I'll never forget that episode of Undeclared where Seth Rogan and his roommate rented this movie because of Rogan's love for it...