Monday, October 14, 2013

Friday's Double Feature

There are a select few movies which I love and have seen too many times to count. Movies that despite all plans to the contrary and all rational thought, I watch time and time again, sometimes even deliberately seeking them out, which was the case this past Friday when I watched You’ve Got Mail for the 100th time.

For those of you trapped under a rock for the past 15 years who haven’t seen this classic, You’ve Got Mail is a 1998 film written and directed by the brilliant Nora Ephron that stars Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. In the movie, set in NYC, the sweet and perky Meg Ryan plays Kathleen Kelly, the owner of an adorably charming children’s bookstore called Shop Around the Corner, which she inherited from her mother. Joe Fox owns Fox Books, a rival book superstore selling “cheap books and legal addictive stimulants” (cappuccinos)that is putting small independent books out of business, that could potentially include Shop Around the Corner when its newest superstore opens literally around the corner from the quaint little shop. Despite mixing like oil in water in person, unbeknownst to one another, this unlikeliest of pairs is actually falling in love with each other through their online communications as Shopgirl and NY152, respectively, that started after meeting in an over 30 chat room. Facing the loss of her shop, Kathleen aka Shopgirl turns to NY152 aka Joe for advice (“go to the matresses” he says), which is kind of like asking the fox to guard the henhouse. When Joe finally suggests that they meet in person, Kathleen agrees, and with Pride & Prejudice and red rose in hand she heads to the local cafĂ© to meet the man of her dreams, but all does not go as planned and love decides to take a quick detour before these two soul mates finally find each other.

I love this movie! It’s so perfect; funny, romantic, sweet, and the sentimental (some would say sappy) ending truly caps off a perfect two hours. Hanks and Ryan had such wonderful onscreen chemistry; you can probably chalk it up to familiarity, since this was their third film together; Joe versus the Volcano and Sleepless in Seattle being the other two. In addition to the great leads, you also had a talented supporting cast featuring Dabney Coleman, Parker Posey and Jean Stapleton. Kathleen’s “I wanted it to be you. I wanted it to be you so badly” makes me swoon every single time. They don’t make em’ like that anymore! I mean in the 90s there were so many great romantic comedies – Pretty Woman, Sleepless in Seattle, When Harry Met Sally, and Four Weddings and a Funeral, to name a few. What’s the last great romantic comedy you can name which doesn’t require tapping your long-term memory banks? There aren’t that many for me, maybe Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (more drama than comedy) and definitely Love Actually, but even those aren’t that recent. Oh, and lest I forget The Proposal, a recent favorite which is quickly racking up viewings.

The second movie in my double feature was one I had wanted to see for the longest time, The Shop Around the Corner, the 1940 film on which You’ve Got Mail was based that starred one of my favorite actors, James Stewart, and Maureen Sullavan.

The Shop Around the Corner is set in 1940 Budapest and stars Jimmy Stewart as Alfred Kralik, the lead sales person at the Matuschek & Co. gift shop. Despite Kralik’s recommendation otherwise, shop owner Hugo Matuschek (Frank Morgan) decides to hire Klara Novak (Sullavan) as a new shop girl after she successfully sells a cigarette box as a candy box (and for a mark-up). After their inauspicious beginning, Kralik and Klara continue to butt heads at every turn, unaware that each is the person they have fallen in love with through anonymous correspondences which Kralik began in response to a newspaper personals ad which Klara posted.

This was a sweet little film, but in my humble opinion, I think this is one of those rarest of occasions in which the remake actually exceeds the original. James Stewart was brilliant as always, bringing his usual every man, down-to-earth charm and witty humor to the role, and the supporting cast was equally talented, especially Felix Bressart as co-worker and family man, Pirovitch, but I found Sullavan’s Klara as sharp-tongued and annoying as did Kralik. While Hanks was more than equal to Stewart’s talent and charisma in the male lead, Ryan was by far the more likeable and endearing female lead between the two versions. The remake pays respectful homage to the original, obviously making concessions to the times by shifting the method of correspondence from handwritten letters to online communications, all the while staying true to the heart of the story and the memorable romantic dynamic between the two protagonists.

As a huge fan of James Stewart, as I am, The Shop Around the Corner was definitely worth watching. Though it wasn’t on par with some of my favorites of his, such as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Harvey or It’s A Wonderful Life; I say any time spent in the company of Jimmy Stewart is always time well spent.