My friends and I delighted in the witty dialogue, watching Kathleen Kelly and Joe Fox write thoughtful messages online and engage in verbal sparring matches in person (“That caviar is a garnish!”) before their characters finally fell in love with each other. You’ve Got Mail also made me almost want to live in New York City. It’s a large and busy place, but I might find it charming if I had a cute-but-probably-too-expensive-for-a-bookshop-owner apartment like Kathleen’s and could take the kids to fun street carnivals like Joe does.
Much has changed since You’ve Got Mail was released in 1998. AOL is a relic, as is that old familiar dialup sound. Few people these days use VCRs. The technology that brought Ryan’s and Hanks’ characters together continues to change the world. It’s more common now for couples to meet online. I met my husband on eharmony.com, and my college friends told me, “It’s like You’ve Got Mail!” Also, the big chain bookstores that are vilified in You’ve Got Mail are now the underdogs in today’s retail world, competing against popular online options like Amazon.
Now that I’m a parent, I also recognize more of the books in The Shop Around the Corner. I glossed over a Martha Speaks display in one scene during my college viewings, but now that PBS gets a lot of play time in our house, I immediately notice those books.
While we aren’t conversing via AOL chatrooms anymore, You’ve Got Mail still conveys some worthwhile messages. Here are 6 lessons from the movie You’ve Got Mail:
1. Go read a good book, or several. Start with Pride and Prejudice, which is Kathleen’s personal favorite. Or Anne of Green Gables, which her mother used to recommend with a box of Kleenex. Or the Shoe books by Noel Streatfeild. Also, read with your kids. Kathleen states, “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.”
2. Enjoy the changing seasons. Toward the beginning of the movie, Joe says to Kathleen, “Don’t you love New York in the fall? It makes me wanna buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address.” Later scenes indicate the passage of time: a “Happy Thanksgiving” exchange during that hilarious scene in the grocery store; a Christmas party with Kathleen’s friends and bookshop employees singing around a piano; or Kathleen and Joe purchasing fresh produce at a street market in the spring. Enjoy the journey.
3. Old-school stuff can be nice. You’ve Got Mail mentions everything from typewriters to VCRs, and it’s set in the days before Facebook and ubiquitous cell phones. More people still read newspapers. Much of the movie’s soundtrack is even a throwback to days gone by, with songs by Louis Armstrong and Bobby Darin. We would do well to unplug and simplify from time to time. Kathleen’s former boyfriend, Frank, would approve.
4. Go to the mattresses when necessary. When Kathleen battles to save her small bookstore from closing after Joe’s big chain bookstore opens, she’s encouraged to “go to the mattresses.” It’s one of the movie’s many references to The Godfather. Sometimes you have to be ruthless and fight for what you need or want. Just remember to take the cannoli.
5. Choose your words carefully. I’m the type of person who usually can’t think of clever responses to rude or mean people until long after the situation has passed. Kathleen laments that her mind goes blank when someone provokes her. Joe responds that he always has “zingers” at the ready, but he states, “I must warn you that when you finally have the pleasure of saying the thing you mean to say at the moment you mean to say it, remorse inevitably follows.” You can’t take back your words once you’ve spoken them.
6. Accept change with courage. As Kathleen faces the prospect of closing her bookshop, she must decide what to do next with her life. Her friend Birdie tells her, “Closing is the brave thing to do … You are daring to imagine you could have a different life.” Change is not always entirely bad. It’s just different, and it’s an opportunity for something new.
What life lessons can you see in your favorite movies?
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