You've Got Mail (PG) 119 mins kink

If the sight of a pyjama-clad Meg Ryan perkily tiptoeing through her apartment makes you gag, if Tom Hanks cuddling a labrador brings you out in hives, then You’ve Got Mail is not for you. But for those with a tolerance for Hollywood cuteness, Nora Ephron’s new romantic comedy provides plenty of shameless pleasure.

Ephron, writer of When Harry Met Sally and co-writer/director of Sleepless In Seattle, has updated Ernst Lubitsch’s classic 1940 comedy The Shop Around The Corner for the electronic age. In the original, James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan played unwitting pen-pal sweethearts; in Ephron's version, Ryan and Hanks are e-mail correspondents who happen to be enemies in real life.

Ryan’s Kathleen Kelly is the owner of a cosy, much-loved children's bookstore in New York's Upper East Side. Hanks's Joe Fox is the embodiment of capitalism the owner of a chain of book superstores, whose plan to open his latest outlet around the corner from Kathleen's shop threatens to put her out of business.

Under the electronic pseudonyms Shopgirl and NY152, however, Kathleen and Joe have been enjoying a deepening intimacy that is beginning to overshadow their current, rather jaded relationships Kathleen's with worthy newspaper columnist Frank (Greg Kinnear) and Joe's with hyperactive book editor Patricia (played by American Indie queen Parker Posey). They explore each other's tastes - he reads Pride And Prejudice, she takes in his view that The Godfather is ‘the I Ching, the source of all wisdom'. But will their burgeoning virtual romance withstand the revelation of their real identities?

Getting the message: Meg Ryan in You've Got Mail

You’ve Got Mail may be bang up to date in its portrayal of online amours, but it remains a decidedly old-fashioned film. Ephron deals - as Rosie O'Donnell, Ryan's confidant in Sleepless In Seattle, says - in 'movie Iove', a sweet but not very substantial confection. That the film works as well as it does is down to Ephron's way with one-liners and the undeniable screen chemistry between Hanks and Ryan.

You've Got Mail is overlong, the supporting cast is underused, and it could perhaps have benefited from some of the astringency Billy Crystal brought to When Harry Met Sally. But for those in the mood, it makes a delightfully seductive movie valentine. (Jason Best)

General release from Fri 26 Feb.

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Happy when it rains: Roberto Benigni and Nicoletta Braschi

Life Is Beautiful (La

glorying in the perfection of his earlobe and navel.

After Guido and Dora marry, the film jumps forward to the last year of the war and the t-' '19 darkens. The Nazis arrive, and GUIth and his five-year-old son, Giosue. are deported to a concentratioii camp. It's here that Benigni pulls off his most audacious stroke. GUido attempts to shield his son from the horrors around them by pretending that the whole ordeal is only a game complete with prizes.

The notion is manifestly absurd. But no more so than the Holocaust itself: Benigni’s fantasy is as legitimate a way to confront the unimaginable horror of

in Life Is Beautiful

Vita E Bella) (PG)116 mins ~2- ar e a

A comedy about the Holocaust? Surely not Well, that's what Italian writer- director-star Roberto Benigni has done and, far from causmg outrage, his film has won a clutch of prizes and is being strongly tipped for Oscar success next month. Best known outside Italy for his performances in Down By Law and Night On Earth, Benigni has fashioned a pOignant comic fable about the

resilience of the human spirit and the power of the imagination.

The first half of the film, set in the Tuscan town of Arezzo in 1939, plays like a fairy tale. Benigni's Chaplinesque everyman hero, GUido, woos Dora (Nicoletta Braschi, the director’s offscreen wife), the fiancee of a local Fascist official. The fact that GUido is Jewish is introduced casually. Italian Fasosm is easily deflated by ridicule, as in the scene when Guido impersonates a visiting school inspector and delivers a spoof panegyric to racial science,

the death camps as Schindler’s List. He shows their reality only once, in the mist-shrouded mountain of corpses that Goido stumbles upon one night. Still, doubts remain. Should a film about the Holocaust really be uplifting? And how funny, actually, is the farcical come'iy of the film's first half? But while Benigni may not push his conceit quite far enough, Life Is Beautiful remains a humane and movmg film. (Jason Best)

I Selected release from Fri 26 Feb. See preview.

review I‘ll

This Year's Love (15) 118 mins ****

David Kane’s deliciously wry romantic comedy features star-crossed lovers, QOs-style six Iate-twentysomethings whose orbits coincide briefly over a period of three years. Drifting in and out of one another's gravitational pull, the three women and three men live in a state of emotional flux irrationally optimistic about love and romance, but often hurt or disappointed by the realities of serial monogamy, the vagaries of commitment-free encounters, or the pain of loneliness. The trendy London neighbourhood of Camden provides a living, breathing setting, rather than a mere movie backdrop, for an ensemble piece that is gratifyingly free of synthetic sitcom contrivance or cute, sentimental solutions.

The marriage between Danny (Douglas Henshall) and Hannah (Catherine McCormack) doesn't even survive the ensuing reception: shattered by a revelation of pre-nuptial infidelity, Danny loses the plot and merely drifts from one relationship to the next. Marey (Kathy Burke) catches the self-pitying Danny on the rebound, but soon tires of her role as a comforting, funny ’fat bird' whose own emotional needs are completely ignored: ‘I'm lonely, but I'm not that lonely,’ she tells Danny pointedly.

Spoilt, rich single mother Sophie (Jennifer Ehle) is too selfish to make room for anyone in her houseboat- dwelling life, not even self-styled bohemian womaniser Cameron (Dougray Scott), a cynical serial seducer who combs the lonely hearts ads in search of potential conquests. Most troubled of all is the socially inept Liam (Ian Hart), whose volatile neediness - like Marey's defensive self-mockery - is at once obliquely comical and worryingly desperate.

Writer/director Kane’s deftly understated dialogue suggests rather than insists, its telling humour born out of recognisable human behaviour rather than trite, pre-fabricated situations. The result is an engaging portrait of flesh-and-blood people just getting by, in a world where little is as permanent as the ’Celtic Forever' insignia that the drunken Danny tattoos onto the similarly squiffy Marey's bum. (Nigel Floyd)

I General release from Fri 79 Feb.

Call of the wild: Douglas Henshall in This Yar’s L

STAR RATINGS * * it it 9: enmissable . **** m .wmot r * . Below average “.- ~ * You've been warn

18 Feb—4 Mar 1999 THE LIST 23