Why We Owe So Much to Nora Ephron and “You’ve Got Mail”by Lindsey Weber and Bobby Finger on June 29, 2012
Lindsey Weber and Bobby Finger are pretty much the biggest You’ve Got Mail fans on the planet. By all normal standards, they’ve thought about Nora Ephron’s 1998 rom-com more than any human being should. So much so that they joined forces with other likeminded YGM fans to create an interactive screening event entitled “We’ve Got Mail.” (Essentially, a Pop-Up Video with Instant Messenger boxes.)
In tribute to Nora, we invited them to chat about You’ve Got Mail and its influence on the current state of online dating. Here’s what they had to say.
Lindsey: Do you think when Nora wrote You’ve Got Mail she would’ve ever imagined online dating? I mean, she obviously imagined people meeting online and (perhaps in the most romanticized sense) dating after that? But do you thing she ever imagined it’d be such a common, accepted thing?
Bobby: I think she envisioned something, but not necessarily the profile-centric sites that are everywhere today. Probably more like online versions of personal ads in the newspaper. Getting to know someone via chatting/email. I think she definitely understood how important THAT would become. As a writer, especially.
B: Yeah, I think a dating website filled with photos and videos and biographical information about oneself was pretty ‘out there’ in 1998 – in terms of tech (SHE HAD LIKE A 28.8KB/S MODEM) and security. The internet of 1997/98 was still a novelty – and a little scarier? Up until then, movies about the internet were like The Net. They focused on all the shit that could happen to your personal life, not the possibility for romance. People didn’t broadcast themselves like they do now.
L: What I also love about this entire thing, is that she explicitly hates technology (especially email) and mentions it MANY times throughout her career. So much so that I doubt she would ever herself engage in online dating, and yet she ends up writing a divorce vertical for The Huffington Post. So it’s almost like although she believed in the promise of online dating through technology, but it was for the next generation. She knew it wasn’t for her, but had the foresight to imagine it for us.
B: Right. I can’t see Nora EVER dating online, but at the same time I can’t see her ever being condescending towards someone who does. If anything, she’d get material from it. A new essay. A new list. A new screenplay. Sad that we can never get any of those things again.
L: Isn’t that what we get from it sometimes, too? Like, I can completely relate. And I love that.
B: Well, getting her AUDIENCE to relate to things they may have no experience with is definitely a talent of hers — something that makes her movies so memorable. Like, I’ve never gone through a divorce (or a marriage, for that matter), but Heartburn can STILL make me cry. I’ve never suddenly started a sexual relationship with an old friend, but When Harry Met Sally still makes me think “I FEEL U, GIRL.” Ha, and You’ve Got Mail? Please. I’m not an Upper West Side resident but that place FEELS LIKE MY NEIGHBORHOOD. It feels like home. All of her movies do.
L: Making something like ‘meeting somebody over the internet’ relatable is actually super difficult. I’m even cringing inside just after typing that out. I bet after people saw that movie those who would’ve before been weirded out originally thought to themselves, “Oh, OK. That totally makes sense. I would do that. I would be OK with that.” So in a sense, she really helped usher in this online dating revolution. She make it acceptable for people to find love in this way. She made it socially acceptable — even GLAMORIZED it! And lots of her movies are adaptations of “classic” situations modernized by her changed time and place–which can often seem very transparent. But she truly made her “remakes” their own part of culture. Who would say “Oh that’s so Shop Around the Corner?” You wouldn’t. Because You’ve Got Mail totally took over that trope and owned it.
B: Absolutely. I bet You’ve Got Mail STILL enters people’s minds when they’re slightly weirded out by online dating. I know it entered mine. The first time I signed up for an online dating website, the thing I had to keep telling myself to calm my nerves and reduce my anxieties was, “THIS WORKED FOR TOM AND MEG. THIS WORKED FOR TOM AND MEG.” And really, Tom and Meg are the ultimate couple. Or, at least the ultimate 90s couple. So yeah, I guess the ultimate couple. We should all be learning from them. When it comes to love.
B: And, ha, when you think about it, Sleepless in Seattle kind of justifies Facebook/online stalking?
L: Please go on.
B: Because Meg’s character is clearly nuts, but whatever — it all worked out in the end! She looked up all kinds of personal information on Tom’s character, but really it’s just like scouring the internet for someone you’re interested in dating.
Nora knew what was up, essentially. She knew how to make us feel comfortable with our quirks and weird behavior — all the crazy things we do when we’re crazy about someone.
And as sappy and unbelievably as her movies tend to end, with their perfect final shots and flawless music selections, I do think she believed in that — or at least a version of that. She believed in happy endings, but she also knew they took time and patience — not 120 minutes.
L: When you boil it all down, we’re all just crazy stalkers. And the Internet makes us better at being crazy.
B: The internet makes us better at being everything.
Lindsey Weber is a writer living in Brooklyn and her favorite part of You’ve Got Mail is when Dave Chappelle calls Meg Ryan “fine.”
Bobby Finger is (also) a writer living in a Brooklyn and his favorite part of You’ve Got Mail is anytime Steve Zahn enters a scene.