Sleepless in Seattle (1993)
Sleepless in Seattle (1993)

Genre: Romantic Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 45 min.

Release Date: June 25th, 1993 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Nora Ephron Actors: Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Ross Malinger, Rita Wilson, Victor Garber, Carey Lowell, Tom Riis Farrell, Bill Pullman, David Hyde Pierce, Caroline Aaron, Rosie O’Donnell, Rob Reiner

 


 

I

n a cemetery in Chicago, Sam Baldwin (Tom Hanks) explains to his 8-year-old son, Jonah (Ross Malinger), how his mother got sick, quite suddenly and unexplainably, and has passed away. It’s not fair, nor is it helpful to dwell on why it happened; it’s simply time for them to move on. But Sam doesn’t handle the loss as well as his child; he’s distraught, depressed, and inundated by coworkers’ suggestions of loss-of-spouse support groups or therapists. And so, in an effort to distance himself from continual memories of his wife, he uproots to Seattle for a fresh start.

18 months later, in Maryland, Baltimore Sun writer Annie Reed (Meg Ryan) quizzes her associate publisher boyfriend Walter (Bill Pullman) on all the members of her family. They’re engaged, and it’s important that he knows something about all the people he’s about to meet for a big holiday gathering. Right away, Walter begins to sneeze and cough during the dinner – as well as to crack a few dull jokes. “He’s allergic to everything.” After the meal, on the way to visit Walter’s parents, Annie overhears Dr. Marcia Fieldstone, of the Network America radio station, talk to Jonah (on her program “Sleepless in Seattle”), who makes a Christmas wish that his father will find a new wife. Sam ends up on the line, skeptically speaking with the clinical psychologist, which sparks a connection with Annie. In short time, she wonders – along with plenty of other listeners – what Sam would be like in person. Of course, Seattle and Baltimore seem as if they couldn’t be further apart.

“Destiny is something we’ve invented because we can’t stand the fact that everything that happens is accidental.” With Nora Ephron at the helm (and also contributing to the screenplay), what could have been a straightforward romance is instead transformed into a hilarious, touching, realistic drama. Not only is the acting incredibly well done (Hanks and Ryan have a considerable amount of chemistry), but the dialogue is also natural and believable. There’s nothing over-the-top or exaggerated about the conversations and interactions; these are average, relatable personas, who don’t do extraordinary things. They’re regular people, even if they accomplish dreamy feats of romantic entanglements. The premise might be implausible if scrutinized (it’s definitely a product of the ’90s), but it’s the kind of fantasy that is easy to get lost in.

Aiding in the sense of grounded normalcy are supporting roles that introduce light comic relief. Rosie O’Donnell as Annie’s coworker and confidant Becky; Rob Reiner as one of Sam’s fellow architects; David Hyde Pierce as Annie’s relative; and Barbara Garrick as potential girlfriend Victoria (“She laughs like a hyena”) are the most significant, providing hysterical tips on modern dating, or clues into the minds of the opposite sex (such as to merely emulate Cary Grant). Chatter between Hanks and Malinger is also quite entertaining; the child might be a touch precocious (he’s a determined matchmaker as well as an angsty preteen), but it helps with character development, shaping the sweetness, awkwardness, and mischievousness of single-parenting (or being raised by a single parent), as well as confronting sentiments of coping with familial loss, and going out with a few wrong people to find the right one. “It’s a sign!”

Marc Shaiman’s music, alternated with popular love tunes and recognizable pop songs, similarly supplements the overflowing emotions. As something of a contemporary twist on (and recreation of) “An Affair to Remember” (a subsequent Hanks/Ryan pairing, “You’ve Got Mail,” is also a remake – of the classic “The Shop Around the Corner”), “Sleepless in Seattle” utilizes love-at-first-sight and fateful encounter ideas to shape its central love story. In using a movie to distance itself from – and comment on the idealism of – the cinema, this picture becomes even more down-to-earth, despite the plot escalating toward that very same, starry-eyed, farfetched finale, which is a madcap, slapstick type of comic conclusion, with no real hope of marital longevity. Nevertheless, it’s terribly romantic.

– Mike Massie

  • 9/10