I'm Still Mad About the Ending of You've Got Mail
Confession: Even though You’ve Got Mail came out in 1998, I didn’t see it until this year.
Twenty years later!
If your jaw is hanging open right now wondering how a book nerd has avoided You’ve Got Mail all this time, you’re not the only one. I hated admitting I hadn’t seen it because I’d always get gaping mouths, shocked stares, and incredulous comments. That’s actually what finally got me to watch it.
Before I watched it, everyone told me I’d love it. “It’s a movie about a woman who owns a bookstore!” they said. “It’s about an indie bookstore fighting the big box retail giant!” they said.
Since You’ve Got Mail is a romantic comedy, I just assumed by nature of the genre that it would all end well. Tom Hanks (my favorite actor) and Meg Ryan would end up together and both bookstores would be saved. But––spoiler alert!––I realized about 90% the movie that the children’s bookstore wasn’t going to survive.
Maybe I was being naive, but that didn’t stop me from screaming at the TV for a solid 15 minutes after the movie ended.
If Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) really loved Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan), he could’ve bought her children’s bookstore, The Shop Around the Corner, and made it the children’s annex of Fox Books and kept Kathleen employed and essentially managing her own store. It’d be a win-win! They could be in love and each have what they want.
But nooooooo. Joe has to put Kathleen out of business––not only forcing her to close a family business that her mother formerly ran, but putting her and her handful of employees out of business while dismantling a neighborhood establishment. And he had every resource and opportunity to not make it a painful process for her.
I almost felt like Joe falling in love with Kathleen was just another way he wrecked her life. Like, if he could make her fall in love with him too then maybe losing the bookstore wouldn’t be so bad. Plus, if she was in love with him, how mad could she really be that he put her out of business? It felt like just another way that he demanded––and got––something from her. He wanted her bookstore business and got it, as if that wasn’t enough.
This movie that everyone told me I would adore was super disappointing in actuality.
Maybe You’ve Got Mail is harder to watch now because we have the benefit of hindsight. We now see Barnes & Nobles closing left and right. We see indie bookstores struggling as much if not more than in 1998. We see the rise of Amazon and how it dominates everything in its path. The movie’s ending seems more insidious in the years in which, unfortunately, such an ending feels more true to life.
And maybe I was supposed to get some campy “love conquers all” message out of it, but I honestly can’t conceive of love coming from a situation where readers and book lovers are hurt, especially when there’s a win-win alternative within reach.
I’d like to think that somewhere out there in the multiverse, You’ve Got Mail is real and 20 years later it’s Joe Fox whose store is going out of business and the neighborhood is rallying to get The Shop Around the Corner to open again because they realize they need an indie. I want to believe in a world where community establishments matter more than big box retailers and people matter more than profit.
I realize I’m projecting. I also try not to judge people for how they get their books because I realize that the low prices offered by giant retailers are sometimes the only way people with limited (or no) entertainment budgets and/or those who live in book deserts can get books. But I hope I never have to fight on behalf of an indie bookstore I love closing. It was painful enough just to watch in the movie.