on 27 December 2015
This is a very pleasant film that quietly reminds us of several others. The title hints, of course, at You’ve Got Mail (the Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan romantic comedy that itself hints at The Shop Around the Corner the Ernst Lubitch 1940 romantic comedy with James Stewart and Margaret Sullivan).
Once you accept the idea that the National Postal Service would hire someone for the few weeks leading up to Christmas to reply to children’s letters to Santa Claus, almost everything else in the story follows logically. The best person to give this job to is a person who lives and breathes Christmas – Kristi North, a mysterious and innocent young girl with nothing in the world except her small suitcase (which seems to be crammed with brightly coloured Christmassy clothes and decorations, and hot chocolate mix) and a large patient pet dog, called Rudi. (The scenes of the busy mail room and letter sorting machines, and the large mail sacks filled with children’s letters to Santa, naturally remind us of Miracle on 34th Street, that great classic Christmas story that eventually places the national Post Office front and centre.)
We know very little about Kristi, until she explains (when she is telling orphan Emily a bedtime Christmas story, and we immediately guess the story is about her) that she grew up in a faraway snowy place that was like Christmas every day of the year. But when she grew bigger than all her friends she had to move away. (Here we are reminded of the Christmas documentary about life at the North Pole, Elf. At other places Kristi seems to know about reindeer and their ways, also. But the dialogue is sometimes quick, and quiet, and there are no subtitles to help.) Since then, living as an independent adult, an innocent a long way from “home”, Kristi has kept moving every year, from job to job, but always only for the few weeks when she is the person who replies to Santa letters. Kristi is also in occasional phone contact with “Dad” – who is presumably, but not stated to be, Father Christmas.
Contrary to another reviewer’s remark, the film says (as far as I saw) nothing about Matt having had a fiancé who had died. But Matt had been part of a successful rock band, until he was named in his sister and brother-in-law’s will as “the best uncle ever” and ended up with custody of Emily. Moreover, the band is about to reform, make a new record, and go on tour, and Heather, the attractive female member of the band, vocalist and leader, wants Matt to re-join and go on tour. (The other male members of the band are the weakest element of the whole film, giving little evidence that they could ever have been musically successful. But that is a minor flaw in the story. The female leader, Heather, will clearly lick them into shape!)
Meanwhile, the manager of the local branch of the National Postal Service, Richard Fuller, is behaving like David Brent (the obnoxious, conceited, and self-deluded office manager in the TV series Office, created and played by Ricky Gervais). Richard Fuller believes (the conceit of the man is staggering!) he is going to be promoted, but (with clear signs of paranoia) thinks that mysterious forces higher up in the NPS have secretly sent someone to check on him, and he suspects this is Kristi. So he picks Matt, initially a mild-mannered mailman who we see collecting and delivering letters, as an unwilling stooge to spy on Kristi and find out her background, and her purpose. Later, Fuller even believes that Kristi is covertly sabotaging the efficiency of “his” branch office.
This leads to the crisis of the film, which is, happily, resolved, at the end, with a hint of sparkly-light Christmas magic – everything else in the film is totally realistic.
Matt begins to pay attention to Kristi, and finds her to be absolutely delightful.
Indeed, Kristi is! When Matt has Chinese food delivered for a picnic, she is not only good with chopsticks but speaks fluent Cantonese to the Chinese delivery man, and can also speak Mandarin – because she had previously worked for a few weeks in Hong Kong, and because, as a Santa Letter Replier she has to be able to write in other languages apart from English. (This hints at the touching moment in Miracle on 34th Street when, in the original version, Kris Kringle speaks fluent Dutch to a sad and lonely Dutch war refugee girl!)
Meanwhile, Matt’s orphaned niece, Emily, has sent a letter to Santa Claus asking only for her uncle Matt to be happy and find a friend. (Here we are reminded, of course, of the other great Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan romantic comedy Sleepless in Seattle!) Kristi replies, writing as Santa, and Emily sends further letters, and gets more replies, and we see some amusing attempts by Emily to set Matt up with a possible romantic interest. (More Sleepless in Seattle!)
Eventually, happy endings all around, and, implicitly, a ringing endorsement of the goodwill and love that is one of the core values of Christmas!
Not perhaps a GREAT Christmas film, but a VERY GOOD one.
John Gough (Deakin University, retired) firstname.lastname@example.org