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Obnoxious Product Placement: Love at First Click


You've got mail gives AOL the star treatment.


Though it's meant to be all in good fun -- a sappy-sweet romantic comedy rushed out just in time for 1998's holiday shopping season -- You've Got Mail is borderline, well, propagandistic. From the obvious AOL (TWX) plug in its title to the hard sell it gives on behalf of Starbucks (more on that later), the movie scores valuable points for consumerism.

Meg Ryan plays Kathleen Kelly, the plucky owner of a little children's bookstore on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, which she inherited from her dear departed mother.

But all is not well for our Kathleen: A big, bad, Borders-esque megastore, called FoxBooks, is set to open just around the corner from Ryan's adorable shop.

All the while, Kathleen is carrying on an anonymous email romance with a man she's sure is her soulmate - in fact, he makes her feel so empowered she decides to attack the FoxBooks behemoth head-on. This plot thread has the added benefit of allowing 2 characters to fall in love via their AOL accounts.

The newly liberated Kathleen begins waging a media war against FoxBooks - particularly against its sleek CEO, Joe Fox, played by Tom Hanks.

Of course, they start off by hating each other - a sure sign, at least to Nora Ephron, that they should marry immediately. Because -- who would ever believe it? -- Kathleen's dream cyber-man, although she won't realize this until the movie's final scene, is actually Joe Fox. (Did you really think Tom Hanks was going to play the bad guy?)

obnoxious Meanwhile, while Kathleen argues passionately for a return to the kind of small-town American values that only an expensive, independent boutique can provide, she logs an awful lot of time at Starbucks (SBUX), about whose coffee Joe delivers a 5-minute speech that charms her more than anything else he says.

A deeply conflicted character -- she clings to her mom-and-pop sensibilities while downing big-box lattes; the megastore puts her out of business, yet she's drawn to its chief executive -- Kathleen ultimately finds happiness in Joe's millionaire embrace. In the film's final scene, they kiss in Central Park while a golden retriever plays around their feet and "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" plays over the soundtrack.

The fact that her new beau destroyed the livelihoods of her one-time employees and will no doubt continue to upend small-business owners seems comparatively inconsequential.

No positions in stocks mentioned.

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