On December 18th, 1998, twenty years ago today, a little film called You’ve Got Mail premiered. Directed by Nora Ephron, it stars Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks as the two romantic leads. Is this movie pure ’90’s cheese? Yes, yes it is, and it is the best kind of cheese. This movie is wonderful, funny, charming, and never fails to put a smile on my face.

The Plot

Kathleen Kelly is the owner of a small children’s bookstore, The Shop Around the Corner that she inherited from her mother. Joe Fox owns Fox and Sons Books with his father and grandfather. His book superstore is trying to put Kathleen’s shop out of business. From the start, Kathleen and Joe hate each other and are constantly butting heads over this very matter. What neither of them knows, however, is that they are also email pen-pals who share their deepest secrets with each other and are falling in love.

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As Kathleen’s shop gets closer to having to close its doors, Joe discovers that the woman he’s falling in love with is none other than his business rival. This changes the way he reacts to Kathleen, both in real life and online, which eventually leads to them becoming real friends. Of course, they also fall in love. It is a romantic comedy, after all.

Celebrating 20 Years of You've Got Mail

Kathleen (Meg Ryan) and Joe (Tom Hanks) Butt Heads

The fact that Kathleen and Joe are business rivals adds an additional layer to the story because they have a very real reason to dislike each other. When it’s time for them to learn to become friends, the fact that he has played a part in closing her store means they have some real things to overcome. They do, and I like how it all plays out.

The Characters

Kathleen Kelly, played by Meg Ryan, is the optimistic owner of Shop Around the Corner. She’s whimsical and cares about her customers. As the story unfolds, we want Kathleen to succeed and her store to thrive. Kathleen is just a likable character, and her enthusiasm contagious.

Tom Hanks’ Joe Fox can be a little unlikable at times. (But it’s Tom Hanks so we forgive him.) He’s willing to be cutthroat to further the family business, but he also has a softer side. We see this when he’s with his family and when he’s writing to Kathleen. As the story goes on, we begin to see more of his gentler nature.

Celebrating 20 Years of You've Got Mail

Kathleen (Meg Ryan) and Joe (Tom Hanks) are friends.

The two make an interesting pair. When they write to each other, they bring out the best in each other, but when they interact in person, they bring out the worst in each other. As the story goes on, this begins to change. Their romance is my favorite kind, enemies to friends to lovers. Their friendship unfolds slowly and then blooms into romance gradually. It isn’t rushed. The two have already fallen in love through their emails and they just needed to get to know each other in real life.

A Brief History of the Story

The earliest version of the story behind You’ve Got Mail is a 1936 Hungarian play, Parfumerie by Miklos Laszlo. The story follows the misadventures of the staff of a small perfumery. Two clerks, Amalia and George, are always arguing. However, neither of them knows that they’ve been writing to and falling in love with each other! Of course, George learns the truth first and begins to try to reconcile his feelings about his co-worker and his letter-friend. Meanwhile, the owner of the store suspects that George is the man having an affair with his wife. He’s not, but things go from bad to worse before everything ends in a wonderfully romantic way.

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In 1940, Ernst Lubitsch directed an adaptation of the story called The Shop Around the Corner, starring James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan. The story is very similar to the original play but changed some of the details. The store is now the Matuscheck and Company store, and the leads are Alfred and Klara. Next, we find 1949’s In the Good Old Summertime, starring Judy Garland and Van Johnson. This story takes place in America and the characters, Veronica and Andrew, work at Oberkugen’s music store. Then in 1963, the first performance of the musical She Loves Me, based on the play, premiered.

Laura Benanti and Zachary Levi in “She Loves Me.”

Besides these adaptations, BBC produced an adaptation of She Loves Me in 1978, and a television movie, Illatszertar, was released in 1987. Then, of course, there was You’ve Got Mail, which added the business and email angle. In 2005, a film called Christmas in Boston that is loosely based on the story was released.  Finally, a Nepalese film, Small World, was released in 2008. This story is based on a Korean film, My Sassy Girl as well as You’ve Got Mail. The latest adaptation of the story was a Broadway musical revival of the play in 2016, starring Zachary Levi and Laura Benanti.

Final Thoughts

You’ve Got Mail is part of a long line of sweet and romantic stories about people who fall in love in the strangest of circumstances. It can even be tied back to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. This story, about two rivals that fall in love through mail/email, is a wonderful one. A plot we have apparently never gotten tired of, and I’m sure never will.

Celebrating 20 Years of You've Got Mail

Joe (Tom Hanks) and Kathleen (Meg Ryan) fight

In this case, the supporting cast is brilliant, the leads are compelling, and the story is fun. If you haven’t seen You’ve Got Mail recently, this is the perfect chance to dust off this classic film. Today, celebrate 20 years of You’ve Got Mail, the best kind of ’90’s cheese, a story that people have been retelling since Miklos Laszlo came up with it in the 1930s. If you like romantic comedies, this is one you don’t want to miss.

Content Note: There’s some adult language and some adult situations, but it’s rated PG.

Where to Watch: You can rent or buy on Digital/DVD.

Have you seen You’ve Got Mail recently? Does it still put a smile on your face? Let me know in the comments! 

Photo Credits: Warner Brothers


“You had me at hello.”


“You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope.

I have loved none but you.”


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