Nora Ephron’s 1998 romantic comedy, You’ve Got Mail, starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, is a remake of the 1940 film The Shop Around the Corner, directed by Ernst Lubitsch and starring Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan.
While the two movies share similar storylines and themes, there are notable differences between them, including the time period, setting, and means of communication between the lead characters.
Similarities Between the Two Films
Both films revolve around the central premise of two individuals who have a contentious working relationship, unbeknownst to them that they are also falling in love with each other through anonymous correspondence.
In The Shop Around the Corner, the characters Klara Novak (Margaret Sullavan) and Alfred Kralik (Jimmy Stewart) exchange letters under pseudonyms, while in You’ve Got Mail, Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) and Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) meet in a chat room on the internet. Fox owns a mega bookstore called Fox Books, modeled after a modern day Barnes & Noble.
Romantic Comedy Elements
As romantic comedies, both films share many of the genre’s typical elements, like humor, chemistry and a conclusion where they finally recognize their love for each other. Both films include a stellar ensemble cast.
In You’ve Got Mail, Parker Posey and Greg Kinnear also join the cast, as Kathleen and Joe’s current lovers. Dave Chappelle appears as good friend to Joe Fox while Steve Zahn plays George, a quirky employee of Kathleen Kelly’s.
Themes of Love and Connection
Both films share a plot based around a secret romance, with the lead characters falling in love through letters and e-mail and both without realizing the true identity of their pen pal, having never met in real-life.
Both demonstrate how two people from different backgrounds can form deep connections through anonymous communication, while also highlighting the role of fate. In You’ve Got Mail, Kathleen, also known as “Shopgirl”, and Joe, have met in person but have no idea that the other is their secret online crush. They also have a deep disdain for one another!
Differences Between the Two Films: Time Period and Setting
The Shop Around the Corner is set in 1940s Budapest, Hungary, in a small gift shop called Matuschek and Company. The film’s quaint and nostalgic ambiance reflects the sensibilities and social norms of that era.
In contrast, You’ve Got Mail is set in 1990s New York City, with Kathleen running a small children’s bookstore once owned by her late mother, The Shop Around the Corner, and Joe running a chain of mega bookstores called Fox Books. This modern setting allows the film to explore the impact of mega chain stores on small, independently owned businesses.
Means of Communication
A key difference between the films is the means of communication used. In The Shop Around the Corner, Klara and Alfred exchange handwritten letters, adding a personal touch to their correspondence. It’s also nostalgic and a sign of the times.
On the other hand, You’ve Got Mail reflects the burgeoning popularity of the internet and the ability to live chat during the late 1990s. Kathleen and Joe’s online correspondence captures the excitement and novelty of this “new” form of communication, which allows for instant connection and anonymity.
The Conflict Between the Lead Characters
While both films share the premise of two individuals with a contentious working relationship, the nature of the conflict differs in each film. In The Shop Around the Corner, Klara and Alfred’s animosity stems from their interactions at Matuschek and Company.
In You’ve Got Mail, the tension between Kathleen and Joe is rooted in their professional rivalry, with Joe’s corporate bookstore threatening the survival of Kathleen’s independent shop.
Characterization and Supporting Cast
Though the main characters in both films share similar traits and conflicts, the supporting cast in each film differs. The Shop Around the Corner focuses on the lives and relationships of the employees at Matuschek and Company, offering a glimpse into the dynamics of a small, close-knit workplace. The film’s supporting characters, such as Mr. Matuschek, Pirovitch, and Pepi, also contribute to their story.
You’ve Got Mail features a more diverse supporting cast, including friends, family members, and co-workers of Kathleen and Joe. Furthermore, You’ve Got Mail delves deeper into the personal lives of the main characters, exploring their backgrounds and romantic histories and aspirations.
Cinematic Techniques and Style
Another distinction between the two films is the use of cinematic techniques and style. The Shop Around the Corner, as a 1940s film, employs a classic Hollywood approach, with a focus on dialogue and character-driven storytelling. It’s entirely in black and white, of course, having been filmed in 1940’s.
You’ve Got Mail, released in 1998, utilizes more contemporary filmmaking techniques, including the incorporation of voiceover narration. The film’s visual style is more vibrant and colorful, reflecting the energy and diversity of the 1990s, in an upper west side neighborhood in Manhattan. Additionally, You’ve Got Mail incorporates a memorable 90’s soundtrack, including the hit song, “Dreams” by The Cranberries.
While You’ve Got Mail is an adaptation of The Shop Around the Corner, the two films possess distinctive qualities that set them apart. Both films remain cherished examples of the classic romantic comedy genre, demonstrating the timeless appeal of stories about love and romance.