'You've Got Mail' Turns 20—Here's What It Might Look Like Today

When Glamour asked me to update a scene from Nora Ephron’s beloved film You’ve Got Mail for its twentieth anniversary, I was confronted with a challenge many screenwriters face today: Can any moment of mistaken identity or unplanned coincidence (both of which have led to some of the greatest movie scenes in history) happen now, in a world where any answer is at our fingertips and devices help us see around every corner? Not to mention that we live in a society where nearly every IRL love story today begins with an Internet connection. Could any scene from You’ve Got Mail even exist today?

Rather than surrender, I asked myself, WWKKD? (What would Kathleen Kelly Do?) Undoubtedly she would, with plucky determination, rewrite the assignment. Just as she reimagined her professional ambitions in the film and concluded that rather than stem the tide of American capitalism, she’d find herself a new dream. So I set a new goal: to reimagine the entire story of You’ve Got Mail for a new era, exploring what kind of old-fashioned romance might lurk in a plugged-in 2018 when we all Always Have Mail. Here goes.

Kathleen Kelly is an adorable New Yorker with a cute apartment in Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood, which any real estate agent will tell you is “the new Upper West Side.” Her love of children and whimsy makes her the beloved head of customer service for Amazon’s toy department, a job that allows her to make her own hours and work from her local vegan café. Most days she shares a sustainably built table there with her boyfriend, Frank, a writer for BuzzFeed whose hard-hitting listicles have earned him the respect of Manhattan’s media elite. On paper, Frank’s perfect for her. The kind of guy you don’t even have to ask to plug in your laptop’s power cord. He just knows when you need juice. And he’s happy to listen to Kathleen vent about her job—lately she’s been rattled by an email from Amazon top brass, alerting her that they’re planning to close down her division in light of the fact that iPads basically contain all the toys, so why bother making an object that does only one thing?

At least, so says Joe Fox, senior executive at Amazon corporate. Joe’s living the urban American Dream in every way, from his Tribeca penthouse to his girlfriend, a SoulCycle devotee and hard-charging literary editor who hit it big last year on the New York Times best-seller list with her nonfiction book Best American Memes. Yet, despite the fact that Joe seems to have it all figured out, he finds himself plagued by anxiety and insomnia. His therapist suggests he may be overstimulated and proposes he attend a tech-detox retreat upstate that was recently profiled by The New Yorker. The rules? No phones. No last names. No information that could reveal anyone’s identity upon returning to their regular lives.

As it happens, Kathleen finds herself heading to the very same retreat. Frank sent her there as a proxy (he’s too public a figure not to get recognized) to help research his latest BuzzFeed article, “10 Reasons Tech Detoxes Are Bullshit.”

Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks in 1994's *You've Got Mail*


Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks in Nora Ephron's You've Got Mail.

At the meet and greet, Kathleen and Joe strike up a conversation and exchange only first names. They bond over a shared love for New York and their favorite place in the city, Central Park’s Sheep Meadow. They also share an anxiety that the Internet is destroying their love for this great city. Yes, the West Village brownstones are gorgeous, but when was the last time they gazed at one without looking up the price on ­Zillow? Yes, Cafe Lalo has wonderful, flaky pastries, but neither has been able to indulge in one since @CafeLaloLover tweeted out their calorie counts.

For the next four days, Joe and Kathleen are inseparable. With no screens to stand in their way, they have epic conversations. Sometimes they say nothing at all, both giddy from the kind of boredom they haven’t experienced since getting smartphones. The last day of the retreat, on a hike, they end up trapped in a rainstorm they might have predicted if either had had access to a weather app. It’s a recipe for movie magic, and if there were any justice in the world, they’d be kissing right now, but then they remember they’re otherwise committed.

On the eve of their happily ever after, Kathleen and Joe google each other.
Just to see.

Kathleen and Joe realize they have to break up with their partners back home to give this new love a chance. They say goodbye, write down their email addresses for each other, slip them in an envelope, and vow to meet one week later. The breakups go surprisingly smoothly. Within a day Joe and Kathleen are unattached and ready to spend their lives together. The six days until their reunion cannot pass quickly enough.

But the night before they’re set to meet, they both make the same fatal mistake. In emailing each other to confirm plans, they realize the other’s address contains his/her full name. They have all they need to get the rest of the information. Neither can resist. And with that, on the eve of their happily ever after, Kathleen Kelly and Joe Fox google each other. Just to see.

And just as quickly as they fell in love, Joe and Kathleen start to fall out of it from behind their respective screens. Kathleen quickly finds Joe’s profile on LinkedIn and notices that beyond the coincidence of him also working for Amazon, in a senior position to hers (which offends her feminist sensibilities), he spent a semester in college interning for a senator with a fiscally laissez-faire attitude toward shipping tariffs. At this rate, how could she ever expect Joe to commit to a relationship? And speaking of commitment, she also finds his now inactive ­OkCupid account, in which he misused an apostrophe—and here she thought he was her intellectual equal!

Likewise, Joe discovers damning information about Kathleen. On her Facebook page he notices that she was tagged on New Year’s Eve 2007 kissing a female friend at midnight. Yeah, fine, it was New Year’s, but they sure looked like they were into it. Joe spends all night reading blogs where women recount their attempts to date men to deny their true self before accepting that a man could never fulfill their emotional needs. Also, there is a lot of French wallpaper on her Pinterest board. Clearly the woman harbors dreams of living on cheese and wine in France one day. Joe hates France! Plus he’s lactose intolerant. How did he ever think this could work?

Needless to say, by the time they arrive at the café for their reunion, the magic is completely gone. The date is awkward, devoid of the easy rapport that came so naturally to them when they were getting to know each other in real time. At first, both are ashamed to admit the reason for their doubts, but eventually they break down, whip out their iPhones, and offer impromptu multimedia, multiplatform recaps of the other’s flaws. Both leave the date in tears.

And then Kathleen and Joe do what anyone in their positions would: They reenter the online dating pool, where you can filter for people who meet all the demands for compatibility. But while all of their matches are good on paper, they find date after date unfulfilling. They miss the magic of their connection, the surprise of not knowing what might happen, the simplicity of just getting to know a person from scratch. In spite of themselves, Joe and Kathleen think back to all they shared at that magical retreat. But how could they even begin to reach out, to repair the damage, to find their way back to each other?

And then one day New York City provides the perfect opportunity. The tristate area is hit by a terrible rainstorm that causes a rolling blackout. Cell towers are down, and before long, Kathleen’s and Joe’s devices go down with them. As rain assaults their windows, from which both are staring out sadly, Kathleen and Joe are reminded of that night they spent in the field upstate, when they almost had that perfect kiss in the downpour. Both run outside, on a mission to the same place: Sheep Meadow, Central Park. It’s empty, except for two people in the mist, at opposite ends of a field awash in color from the changing leaves.

Joe and Kathleen spot each other, slowly make their way forward, and meet in the middle.

With an adorable smile, Kathleen clarifies something to Joe: “I believe everything is a spectrum, but even on that spectrum, where zero is completely heterosexual, I’m, like, a 2.5, max.” To which Joe replies with a steadfast, yet gentle, masculinity, “If we’re being honest, I’m probably a 2.5 myself. Also, that apostrophe thing was autocorrect. Did you know that sometimes autocorrect mixes up their and they’re?” Kathleen shakes her head incredulously. She didn’t know that.What happens next is not tweeted, texted, or posted about. It just is.

Screenwriter Susanna Fogel cowrote and directed The Spy Who Dumped Me and is the author of Nuclear Family: A Tragicomic Novel in ­Letters. She is based in Los Angeles.

Illustration by Petra Eriksson

Published at Thu, 20 Dec 2018 22:19:00 +0000