The release marks the first time America Online will play a marquee role in a feature film. The online giant serves as the central element that unites Hanks and Ryan in an anonymous romance. The actors play rival booksellers who unknowingly meet in cyberspace, then develop a bond via email.
Along with 15 minutes of fame, the film will bring AOL the benefits of pop-culture marketing, establishing its name in the minds of a mainstream audience that might not yet be familiar or comfortable with the Internet. AOL traditionally has targeted the newbie audience with its significant marketing muscle.
Many expect the film will, for the first time, portray the Internet as a household tool instead of as a threatening medium frequented by madmen, pornographers, and criminals.
But at the same time, the degree to which the film filters out the "bad" elements of the Internet could give viewers an idealized image of AOL's service, one that fails to mention common complaints among the ISP's members like spam, incessant advertising, and occasional network lags.