The classic story of two enemies who discover that they are really the “dear friends” who share a loving penpal relationship is deliciously updated for the era of email. Tom Hanks plays Joe Fox, scion of a family that owns a chain of enormous bookstores (think Barnes & Noble). Meg Ryan plays Katherine Kelly, owner of a beloved independent children’s book store called The Shop Around the Corner. When the new Fox store moves in around her corner, they take each other on, though it is clear from the first that they are strongly attracted to each other and would much rather be friends.
At first, both are in other relationships, she with a newspaper columnist who decries technology (Greg Kinnear), and he with a high-strung overly caffeinated book editor (Parker Posey). But as their online friendship becomes more important to them, they both realize that they cannot settle for the convenience of a relationship that should work. Knowing each other only as “Shopgirl” and “NY152,” and keeping to their resolve not to disclose personal details, they exchange emails about how they see the world around them. He is warmly supportive of her, advising her to fight her adversary, not knowing that he is the one she is writing about. The witty dialogue gets high gloss from two of the finest light romantic leads in Hollywood, whose chemistry was already proven in “Sleepless in Seattle.” It is clear to us from the beginning where it is all going, but it is also clear that they will make it a pleasure along the way, and they do.
Parents should know that the movie contains brief bad language, and that Joe’s father and grandfather become involved with a series of younger women, which is portrayed as humorous — including a comment by Joe’s father (Dabney Coleman) that he may marry the mother of his son. Sexual overtures to Joe by that woman seem inappropriate for a movie of this kind. A later reference to a woman who leaves a man for a woman is also intended as humor. Parents should also make sure that children know that they should not talk to strangers online, and should never accept an invitation to meet in person anyone they have corresponded with online.
Other good topics for discussion include how it can be easier to be yourself in email than in person and how you balance the need to stand up for yourself with the importance of not hurting others. Children who enjoy this movie may also like to see the original, like Katherine’s store called “The Shop Around the Corner” starring Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan, and the musical remake called “In the Good Old Summertime” with Judy Garland and Van Johnson. The story was also produced and as a different musical play called “She Loves Me.”