The story actually starts in the fall, where a couple of online friends named Shopgirl and NY152 are exchanging pleasantries and witty observations about the season in their mutual setting in New York.
I do agree that fall in New York does make you want to buy school supplies-although I draw the line at sniffing Scotch tape as our leading lady does at one point-as well as the offer of a bouquet of "newly sharpened pencils" sounds sweet.
However, it turns out that these online "no details" pals are more closely connected than they think. Shopgirl is actually Kathleen Kelly(Meg Ryan), the owner of her late mother's bookstore for children.
She does feel a little guilty about her internet chats with NY152 since she does have a boyfriend, Frank(Greg Kinnear), but nothing has really happened between them in the real world, not even cyber sex, which is good as one of Kathleen's shop clerks points out "Once you do, they lose all respect for you!"
NY152 is also in a relationship with Patricia(Parker Posey) who makes "coffee nervous" and his name is Joe Fox, the scion of the massive Fox and Sons bookstore chain.
He's about to open a new store in Kathleen's neighborhood which could run her out of business. That doesn't prevent him from stopping by one afternoon with a couple of his younger relatives to enjoy the Storybook Lady reading but Joe is savvy enough not to reveal who he truly is there:
Soon enough, Kathleen learns who "just call me Joe" is and their rivalry is on. Unknowingly, Joe gives Kathleen advice about taking their business battle to the media and she does lands a few blows on his company's public image.
Alas, it is ultimately not enough to help her bookstore's financial decline and she takes a chance on asking NY152 to meet her in public. Joe then discovers that his online romance is with Kathleen Kelly and things go awry from there. I'll get back to that big scene in a moment but we need to talk about something first.
Lately, this movie has gotten some serious backlash regarding Joe Fox's behavior towards Kathleen in the love department and yes, it is not unwarranted criticism. He acts like a jerk a good deal of the time and takes his sweet time in letting Kathleen know who he really is to her.
Earlier in the movie, Shopgirl recommends the book to NY152(who is seen reluctantly reading it) and P&P is discussed by the main characters. Their major confrontation scene echoes a similar one in that book and a copy of P&P is actually on the table between them.
What does all of that mean? Jane Austen fans at the time were encouraged to see this story as a modern version of P&P which makes Kathleen Elizabeth Bennet and Joe as Mr. Darcy. In that regard, Joe is being true to character as Mr. Darcy was quite the jerk to Miss Bennet. I won't get into a blow by blow comparison but both Joe Fox and Mr. Darcy share a penchant for snobbery along with an entitled sense of bluntness about it, plus concealing information from those they profess to care about.
So, this is not an excuse for his actions here but rather an explanation of why Joe Fox acts this way. He is not only supposed to be the character in the Jimmy Stewart original but Mr. Darcy as well. As we see in the big meet-up moment between Joe and Kathleen, Pride and Prejudice is brought up as not only a prop signal for Kathleen's intended mystery date but to set up the battle stations for each of them to attack from:
As the scene goes on, Kathleen becomes the embodiment of Elizabeth Bennet as she not only holds her own against Joe's snide comments and defensive behavior, she also fires the last verbal shot in that argument. It hits home, just as Elizabeth's did towards Darcy in that ill timed proposal, and I do believe that Jane Austen would applaud the line "You are nothing but a suit!":
It does help that this was the third time around for Hanks and Ryan as onscreen romantic partners(Sleepless in Seattle never did it for me but a shout out to the underrated Joe Vs. the Volcano!).
The two of them have a natural good rhythm together, which Ephron showcased to full effect. Tom Hanks, in particular, put his natural charm to good use here, such as this scene in Zabar's where Kathleen needs a rescue at the register.
As someone who has worked behind a register during the busy season, Kathleen should have gotten in another line and yes, Joe stepping in like that was a bit much. The saving grace of this situation is that knock-knock joke, which did much to melt the heart of Rose(Sara Ramirez) who has a great smile and a great name to boot. I have to admit that such a cute move might have worked on me also:
Yet, that wasn’t a realistic outcome and the whole “I put you out of business “ conflict allowed Kathleen and Joe to further develop as characters with some similarities to P&P’s Lydia elopement sub plot (see it all tied into Austen!).
All in all, there is much to love about this movie with a great cast that included Dabney Coleman, Jean Stapleton and Dave Chappelle. The New York setting, copious use of mood specific tunes, so much to savor. Yes, there are flaws but as Jane would say “pictures of perfection make me sick and wicked”, not to mention being dull to watch.
Thank you all for tuning into this summer experiment and please feel free to make suggestions for another AiA next year!
Meanwhile, I will see you all in September as my blog is taking a mini-break. LRG will post again after Labor Day and I wish everyone a happy end of summer time: