They’ve been called the Tracy and Hepburn of their time. The cutest couple on the big screen today. The most combustible combination of chemicals to hit Hollywood’s periodic table in decades. And here they are — Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan — sitting at a sidewalk cafe on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, sipping ice water and doodling with their silverware as they wait to shoot a scene for You’ve Got Mail, their latest boy-almost-doesn’t-meet-girl romantic comedy. One hangs on their every word….
”So I read a newspaper story the other day about an old observatory in San Diego,” Hanks is telling Ryan. ”They use this oil to lubricate the telescope? But it turns out nobody’s making the oil anymore. They haven’t made it in years.”
”Uh-huh,” Ryan says.
”There’s only, like, 20 gallons of this telescope oil left. So now they have to switch to ordinary motor oil.”
”Uh-huh,” she says.
”It was a really interesting article.”
Uh-huh. Fortunately for them — and us — they’re much more fun to watch on film. At least they were in Sleepless in Seattle, the 1993 hit chick flick that asked the far-fetched question, Is it possible to fall in love with someone you’ve never actually met? The answer, of course, was a resounding yes — at least at the box office. The movie grossed $126 million domestically, helped establish Nora Ephron as the most formidable female filmmaker in Hollywood, and sealed Hanks and Ryan’s reputation as the can’t-miss combo of the ’90s.
And now, five years later, the rom-com dream team are reuniting to ask pretty much the same question in Mail, only with a digital twist. This time the destined-to-love strangers meet on the Internet one enchanted evening across a crowded chat room, and type their way into each other’s hearts with a montage of poetic — but always anonymous — e-mails. The plot-turning catch: In the non-virtual world, Hanks and Ryan (or NY152 and Shopgirl, as they know each other online) are arch-business rivals. She owns a small neighborhood children’s-book shop; he runs a chain of Borders-style superstores that’s about to put her out of business.
”No, it’s not a sequel,” Ephron insists. ”It asks a different question than Sleepless. This time it’s more like, Can Mr. Wrong turn out to be Mr. Right? That’s really what this is.”
Actually, that’s only half of what it is. Mail is also about two movie stars, Hanks and Ryan, and whether Ephron will be able to perform the same alchemy that turned Sleepless into a smash. ”You never know if that magic chemistry is going to strike again,” concedes Warner Bros. cochair Terry Semel, who’s betting more than $60 million (not including promotion) that Mail will deliver. ”But two people falling in love — especially these two people — has international appeal. If there is such a thing as a perfect couple, Tom and Meg are it. They’re like Mr. and Mrs. World.”