This weekend, I came to a stunning realisation: I’ve watched You’ve Got Mail many more times than I’ve seen When Harry Met Sally. Man, I even saw it box fresh at the Stratford Picturehouse back in 1998. What can I say – I used to have a disposable income unattacked by council tax and the Inland Revenue, just stretchy jeans from East Ham market. I’m not especially a superfan of Meg Ryan’s (remember how she was America’s Sweetheart till she slept with Russell Crowe and Hollywood punished her by casting her as the Whore of Babylon?). How did this happen? Short answer: ITV2 scheduling and a colder than usual winter.
You’ve Got Mail is from a time when people used expressions like, “I met him in a chatroom” and AOL still sent those little CD-ROM envelopes; a time when being on the internet meant no phone calls for the duration of your surfing (wow). The internet was a scary unmapped region where, the newspapers told you, a serial killer was waiting for you to enter your personal details so they could hunt you down and kill you in your home. Of course nowadays, the internet is a kind, regulated space where only good things – like making friends on feminist websites and sharing recipes for blondies – happen. Just kidding, it’s totally the Wild West out there; proceed with caution.
Anyway, Meg goes into a chatroom one day and meets Tom Hanks [an actor I’ve fancied precisely three times in three different movies – 1. Big (he’s literally a manchild!), 2. Turner and Hooch (he’s a cute cop washing his dog while wearing tiny black Hanes briefs!) and 3. Splash (he’s a cute guy who falls in love with a mermaid!). Honourable mention for his part in Road To Perdition, where he displays, in the words of my friend A, ‘stealth sexy’ by being “weirdly, austerely arousing”.] So Meg and Tom meet online, chat – leaving out specific details, because why complicate stuff, right? – and become close. In real life, they’re at war. He’s a big corporation book chain whose latest superstore will kill her little indie bookstore (this could’ve been made in 2012, you guys! Except his company would be an online superstore called, um, Nile.com). They fall in love online and war in the real world yadda tadda yadda, the final revelation is made, they live happily ever after. If this is a spoiler for you, you must not have been watching romcoms for the last 100 years.
It’s not a bad movie. It is charming, with great little lines studded throughout. Watch for the bookstore employee who may or may not have had an affair with General Franco, and Parker Posey, who gives good villain as always. Plus, there’s a genuinely lovely old-fashioned soundtrack. In fact what I have learned, watching it several times, is that the whole movie is very old-fashioned indeed. The characters write letters for crying out loud; getting to know one another through their words. For all the modernity of the ‘they met on the internet!’ plot, it’s about two strangers revealing bits of themselves (not like that) in tiny increments. The emails and IM conversations tell us everything about the characters – what they say, obviously, but also what they do not say, helps to draw a fuller picture. It’s something that many modern romcoms zoom past, expecing the viewer to just fill in the gaps. Thanks for making me feel like a grown up, filmmaker dudes, but may I request you feed me more?
By the time Meg and Tom kiss – in the final scene of the movie – you really feel a ‘yes!’ moment. They deserve that kiss! They’ve spent time together, they know each other’s favourite books and films, they have, in the parlance of Mills & Boon novels, been ‘engaged in mental foreplay’ for quite some time. So yeah, kiss! Kiss with tongues!
I find that first – and only – kiss they share to be lovely. One of the loveliest. So here’s a small rundown of some of my favourite first kisses in the movies (and television and fiction):
1/ When Celine and Jesse kiss in Before Sunrise. A cable car on the Viennese Riesenrad at dusk, two young would-be lovers and a charged atmosphere. You know when Ehan Hawke says, hesitantly, “It seems like, um, this would be a… uh, you know, uh…” And Julie Delpy puts her arms around his neck and says “Are you trying to say you want to kiss me?” And he nods with purpose and mouths “Yes” and then she nods back and they kiss? Lawdt. It’s a little awkward and lovely and perfect.
2/ When Karl and Sarah kiss in the hallway after the office party in Love Actually. Laura Linney’s acting makes me all emotional, man. There she is, shackled to a job and a demanding sibling and then she finds that the object of her affection feels the same way. And Karl is all sensitive-looking in his glasses, with his glossy-like-a-horse’s-mane hair. And then they’re in the hallway and they kiss and she does her giddy dance on the stairs (we’ve all been there, right?). The whole bit between when they walk in the front door and the later… unpleasantness is gorgeous, but that kiss just slays me.
3/ Ennis and Jack’s first kiss in Brokeback Mountain. Jack, puppyish and sweet, initially attempts to kiss the taciturn and closed off Ennis but is rebuffed. Jake Gyllenhaal’s whispered “It’s alright, it’s alright” makes me weep a little. And the way Heath Ledger clutches his hat like a little security blanket… Aw, man. I’m crying again. It is one of the more erotically charged first kisses I’ve ever seen. (Also, Jake is so handsome!)
4/ When Jane and Robert kiss in The Girls’ Guide To Hunting and Fishing after their terrible first date. Jane has been reading an awful self-help dating book, which curtails all her natural responses. Frankly, this entry is less about the kiss, described thus: “Back at my apartment, I take Jezebel off her leash, and in my mini-vestibule, he leans toward me and we kiss.” and more about what has gone before. She likes him, wants to see him again, but this crappy book has made her rethink all previously known strategies. I love that the kiss got in there despite all the extra voices in their budding relationship.
5/ Casper and Kat kiss in Casper. Disclaimer: I was a young teen when I saw this back in ’95. Therefore IT IS NOT CREEPY: we were all around the same age, ok? Anyway, wee motherless and friendless Christina Ricci lives in an old house with her dad and four ghosts. Somehow she winds up hosting the Halloween dance and kissing Casper (the youngest ghost) who’s been briefly made human again. Their kiss – during a slow dance, natch – is everything teenage YorubaGirl was looking for aged 13. *SWOON* Except for the bit where the juju wears off and he becomes a ghost again mid-kiss. *EW*.
6/ Kate and Adam’s first kiss in the criminally underrated ’00s romcom, Love & Sex. Roger Ebert didn’t like it, but hey, what does he know? It’s lovely. Jon Favreau and Famke Janssen’s first date sees him telling her she has E.T. fingers (“like a tree frog”) to which she retorts he has an “unusually large head”. The date becomes a question and answer session, as they are wont to do, and then he asks: “What’s the longest kiss you ever had?” Her reply is unnecessary: “You know what? It doesn’t matter, just make sure this one is longer.” They kiss, the camera pans to the sky, I am pleased.
7/ Abby and Brian kiss in The Truth About Cats and Dogs. My love for this movie is well documented on this here blog, but there’s so much to love! Their kiss comes after the requisite misunderstandings (and phone sex – ah, modern love), right at the end of the movie. “Abby,” he tells her. “I only ever loved one woman and I don’t want to lose her twice.” Her expression softens, he kinda pat-strokes her hair, they both lean in… The kiss is interrupted by a joke. They both smile. They kiss again. They share another joke. Roll credits.
8/ Tim and Dawn kiss in The Office Christmas Special. No one does yearning quite like Martin Freeman as Tim. And in Lucy Davis’s Dawn, he has a perfect partner. By the end of the episode, I was done, ready for the downbeat British ending and then in walked Dawn, coat unbuttoned, clutching Tim’s present. She moves her neck like a baby chick, hesitantly seeking the correct angle and they kiss. When they disengage, they walk out holding hands. Yazoo provides the perfectly judged soundtrack. *strangled sob*
Clearly, this list isn’t exhaustive, just a picture of where my mind is at the moment (in the 90s, obviously). What’s your favourite first kiss in pop culture? Please share in the comments.