December 2019
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Sleepless In Seattle (1993)

DIRECTOR: Nora Ephron

CAST: Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Bill Pullman, Ross Malinger, Rosie O’Donnell, Rob Reiner, Rita Wilson, Victor Garber, Frances Conroy, David Hyde Pierce, Gaby Hoffmann, Dana Ivey, Carey Lowell


Whether you find Sleepless In Seattle a chore or a breeze to sit through depends on how game you are for letting an unabashedly feather-light romantic comedy-drama sweep you along on its sugar-coated ride. For one not immediately turned off by what is an unabashedly “chick flick” romance (as is to be expected from Nora Ephron), though, it boasts likable characters and a script that has a little more intelligence and wit than is often found in its genre.

The plot gets kickstarted when eight-year-old Jonah Baldwin (Ross Malinger) calls into a radio show seeking a new wife for his father Sam (Tom Hanks), a depressed, lonely widower. After getting grudgingly dragged onto the air, Sam is eventually goaded into an impassioned outpouring about his beloved late wife, while millions of women across America listen enraptured. Among them is Baltimore-based Annie Reed (Meg Ryan) who, despite a “safe” and unexciting engagement to Walter (Bill Pullman), begins fantasizing about “what if” with a man she’s never even laid eyes on. To this end, Annie starts digging around and eventually establishes indirect contact. But when coincidence—or fate—intervenes to make a face-to-face meeting possible, it becomes a question of Annie and Sam daring to take a leap of faith.

There’s something a little old-fashioned about Sleepless In Seattle, but those who deride it for that fact are missing the point. It’s consciously designed that way, accentuated by a 1950s soundtrack and prominently referencing An Affair to Remember, both in dialogue (Annie can quote it word-for-word) and directly paid homage to (the climactic rendezvous atop the Empire State Building). The narrative is a pile of coincidences and contrivances stacked atop each other, but that’s not really as much of a criticism as it would be considering that, again, it’s deliberately designed that way. The question of destiny is a major thematic overtone, with Annie starting out fancying herself a no-nonsense modern woman who scoffs at fate and signs and ending up converted into a starry-eyed believer. The movie is a romantic comedy, but the comedy is of the more wry, subdued variety than openly laughable, mostly involving characters having quirky conversations or getting derailed on oddball tangents, although there are a couple moments worthy of a laugh, such as when Tom Hanks and Victor Garber mock Garber’s wife’s (Rita Wilson) weepy description of An Affair to Remember with similarly tearful gushing over The Dirty Dozen. There’s times when the quirkiness gets a little of the annoyingly over-obvious sort when characters talk in affectedly oddball ways because it’s a function of the script rather in organic humor, but that’s a minor irritant. Perhaps most notably, the movie manages to forge a connection we can believe in between two characters who don’t so much as come directly face-to-face until its closing minutes.

The actors are well-suited to the material. Meg Ryan, no stranger to romantic comedies, doesn’t do anything outside of her comfort zone as Annie, but brings enough of her slightly quirky spark to be right at home. Tom Hanks is more subdued but demonstrates he’s equally comfortable with either lightly humorous or more serious moments, and with the help of an intelligent script and a heartfelt opening monologue, makes Sam a likable everyman we can sympathize with. Bill Pullman has the somewhat thankless role of the token third wheel, the amiable but dull Walter, who’s obviously not “the one” from the get go. Familiar faces abound in supporting roles, including Rosie O’Donnell as Annie’s best friend (they share an amusing moment mouthing along to An Affair to Remember), Frasier‘s David Hyde Pierce as Annie’s brother, Rob Reiner as Sam’s friend who gives him advice about getting back out on the dating scene, and Rita Wilson (the real-life Mrs. Tom Hanks) and Victor Garber, who supply a hilarious moment late in the movie. As the requisite precocious child who gives Dad a kick in the ass (several of them, in fact), Ross Malinger manages to avoid the pitfall of being annoying about it.

For a romance that serves up the requisite feather-light charm and contrivances mixed with a script that’s a little more intelligent and humor a little more subdued than standard rom com fare, Sleepless In Seattle is a delightful confection. Viewers who are not fans of the genre are unlikely to be converted, but those who are may find, like Annie Reed, that Sleepless In Seattle is a leap of faith worth taking.

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