Valentine's Day Triple Feature - Part 1
In preparation for Valentine’s Day, I’ve decided to review three films that I finally got a chance to see after expressing so much interest. For this review, the movies I’m covering is a twofer, and it’s only because they are technically the original film and the remake reviewed side-by-side. These two films are The Shop Around the Corner and You’ve Got Mail.
Let’s start with the original film, The Shop Around the Corner starring James Stewart and Margaret Sullivan. I’m gonna be frank about this, when I first read the title and saw the posters of the movie, I expected it to take place in a new England town. That is to say, somewhere in Pennsylvania, or Vermont, or New Hampshire or something. But it turns out that it took place in — of all places — Budapest, Hungary. Didn’t see that coming.
As for the story, it’s about a headstrong businessman named Alfred, who has worked under the wing of Hugo Matuschek for nine years. However, during the past several months, he also was pen pals with an anonymous secret admirer and he started to become more and more interested in seeing who his special pen pal really was. Things get even more complicated, however, when a lady named Klara became hired to work for Matuschek & Co. when she successfully sold what Matuschek liked and yet what was also frowned upon by others, including by Alfred; a cigarette box that plays music when opened.
Within the first few days of having met each other, Alfred and Klara’s multiple reunions at work were nothing but barks and arguments, not helped by the fact that both Alfred and Klara were planning to meet their secret admirers on dates scheduled at the same time and day at 8 PM. I think you can tell right away who Alfred's pen pal is and who Clara’s own secret admirer is, can’t you?
Meanwhile, after being convinced by Alfred to give him the night off for his date, Matuschek laid him off despite his loyal and lengthy service to the business, and that, coupled with some personal matters unfolding for him at the same time, mounted up and had Matuschek undergoing a suicide attempt – yes, you read that right, a suicide attempt; something from this movie that also took me by surprise – before being stopped by one of his employees who came in after closing time.
The attempt still left Matuschek hospitalized, though, resulting in Alfred not only being rehired, but also named as the next head of Matuschek & Co., which only complicates matters for him, Klara, and even some of his coworkers-turned-employees.
First up, the movie did a terrific job of covering as much ground as it could in certain areas. For one thing, the characters. I felt as if I was being shown hints of what their lifestyles outside of work were like, and not just who they were like when they were in work. Also, because of those glimpses, it added a level of sophistication to the script, which added greatly to the story of Alfred, Klara, and their relationship as it unfolded.
Next up is the iconic remake You’ve Got Mail. This movie carried a lot of wit and charm, mostly thanks to the acting from Tom Hanks as Joe and Meg Ryan as Kathleen. This movie took place in late 90s New York City and while both Joe and Kathleen, unbeknownst to each other, wrote love letters to each other, they did it all online. Bear in mind, this was at the time when the Internet and online chatting were both starting to climb their way into popularity. Their communications to each other worked out the same way as with Alfred and Clara in The Shop Around the Corner, except — and this is what made it a skosh more interesting — they were both owners of different bookstores. Kathleen was the owner of a standard mellow bookstore named, fittingly enough, ‘The Shop Around the Corner’, which she inherited from her mother. Joe, on the other hand, became the owner of what was going to be the first of a chain of high scale bookstores with their own coffee aisle – not unlike Barnes and Noble – simply called Fox & Sons Books. Things get even more complicated when Joe planned for Fox & Sons Books to be constructed, and to open, across the street from The Shop Around the Corner. This David vs. Goliath set up is naturally what led to the bickering moments between Joe and Kathleen when they first met, even though, again, they didn’t realize they were each other’s romantic online pen pal. There were a few advantages that this movie had over The Shop Around the Corner, which is not to say they made that other movie less spectacular. First of all, the fact that Joe and Kathleen were rival bookstore owners in spite of their online love life created a far more interesting contrast and dynamic than merely meeting and bickering as coworkers like in The Shop Around the Corner. Second, the idea of a small business competing against a much bigger business was not foreign in The Shop Around the Corner. It was stated that Matuschek & Co. had been competing for quite some time against an even bigger company — I forget what its name was — that lived a block or two away from Matuschek & Co. Yet, the movie mostly focused on just Matuschek & Co. In You’ve Got Mail, however, it took the liberty of diving into the workforces of both companies, both the Shop Around the Corner and Fox & Sons Books, allowing the viewers to get a taste of how they both worked in their own ways. The third, and probably the biggest, advantage it had was its portrayal of the heavier material, specifically in what happened to the Shop Around the Corner by the last third of the movie. Without giving anything away, all I can say is that unlike Matuschek’s suicide attempt — which, while it did at least move the story forward, still felt like it was there for the sake of shock value — this felt like a very unsettling but otherwise far more natural case of reality kicking in. This shows that there are some situations in life where you try your hardest on certain things only for them to not turn out the way you want them to. The same thing can be said about what You’ve Got Mail has shown, and it did it very nicely.
Ultimately, however, I feel that a movie, or even a TV show, book, whatever, should be judged on how well it portrayed its characters and told its story rather than just how well it handled its substance material. And while I feel that You’ve Got Mail had enough wit and charm through its characters to make them likable and did a good job of balancing its storytelling with the presentation of the details of its own subject material, the way The Shop Around the Corner added so many layers to its story and followed its characters gave itself a level of cohesion and thus an edge over You’ve Got Mail.
In spite of which one’s better, however, I also feel that both The Shop Around the Corner and You’ve Got Mail are excellent romantic comedies and are really just classics in their own right. It all just boils down to the average moviegoer’s taste, and I know I’m going to look forward to checking back on either Alfred/Klara or Joe/Kathleen whenever I need a good taste of the possibility of romance stemming from the unlikeliest of places.
‘The Shop Around the Corner’ Rating: B+ ‘You’ve Got Mail’ Rating: B
PS I'll look over the third film I promised on Valentine's Day. :)
Originally published on Facebook, February 12, 2018