What if I took this dainty pair of embroidery scissors and trimmed around Tom Hanks’s character to remove him? We would end up with something that feels more like women’s fiction, and something I wouldn’t want to rip up with my teeth like my dog eating socks.
The short summary is: A small businesswoman is trying to make her mother’s bookstore survive the opening of Barnes & Noble*. Not only does she fail and lose the bookstore, but she ends up with the guy responsible for the changing economic circumstances (literally, this guy is bourgeoisie, a boss, a wage-thief, the kind of guy whose whole family goes to the guillotine in the revolution) that spent the last few months actively lying to her gd face in an incredibly personal way.
Thing is, I think the bitter ending is totally right for Meg Ryan as a creator. She’s obviously a Nerd For Story. Her new non-romcom with David Duchovny also doesn’t have an HEA. Ryan knows her career is shaped around the fantasy of love and hope healing, but she wants to know where the boundaries on that exist in reality.
And the beauty of Meg Ryan’s performance is what keeps me coming back to this movie. She *is* overloaded with hope. She *hopes* she will give her mother’s gift to her own daughter, who doesn’t exist yet. She *hopes* people will continue coming to her bookstore because they care about children’s books the way Fox Books* doesn’t. She hopes to remain the center of a community. She hopes to do this the rest of her life.
So this movie takes away all of Meg Ryan’s hopes and says, “What now?” Still, this woman picks herself up and says, “I have lost everything. It is time for something new.” She becomes an editor. The legacy of her mother turns out (subtextually) to be one of resilience.
And that’s not how the story frames it.
Rather, this movie is the story of capitalism bulldozing small business hopes, and it has *nothing* encouraging to say about it.
Meg Ryan’s mom didn’t want to pass an empire of capital onto her daughter; she wanted to pass hope on. And the Fox family, who HAS built an empire of capital, stealing wages, destroying businesses and culture, gets everything they could possibly want. Including the son of the family getting the enchanting Meg Ryan.
You can talk about how Joe Fox isn’t entirely happy with this situation. We see his discontent. To that, I would like to say, so fn what? He doesn’t lose anything. The rewards of plot and economy are showered on him no matter how badly he behaves so persistently. He even continues lying to and manipulating our heroine after her business has fallen. We’re supposed to think this is when they *really* fall in love.
Nora Ephron, are you okay? Do you need a lesbian strike team to remove you from your life?
FWIW, if I wanted this to work as a romcom, I’d tweak the script so that Meg Ryan’s character feels burdened by her mom’s legacy and *wants* something new, so that it’s an unexpected gift when capitalism-wearing-Tom-Hanks-face bulldozes her life. It wouldn’t be a massive change to take this ending from feeling like spit in her eye to being like “Ok, I guess she’s happier anyway.”
Image credit: Warner Bros.