Film Review - Sleepless in Seattle (1993)
A lonely grieving man in Seattle, and a woman in Baltimore who is trapped in a relationship which lacks magic. A whole continent divides them. They don't know each other, but the woman knows about the man through his appearance on a radio phone-in. And she decides that she can make him happy, and that he is the man she has been waiting for all her life.
Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan star as the would-be lovers in this, one of a series of several light rom-coms in the late 1980s and the 1990s featuring one or the other or both of these very likeable actors. This, I believe was the best of them all.
There are plot spoilers later on this page, which reveal the ending. These paragraphs will be in bold type, and will be labelled as plot spoilers.
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WHAT’S THE STORY ?
This film opens in Chicago with a funeral, and for architect Sam Baldwin and his young son Jonah, this is one of the worst days of their lives. The funeral is of Sam’s wife and Jonah’s mother. She has died of cancer. In the immediate aftermath of this devastating event, Sam’s friends try to help him through his grief, but without much success. Sam decides he needs a clean break. A fresh start, in a new city - Seattle. He relocates there with Jonah, but still he cannot move on with his life; loneliness plays heavy on his mind and he cannot sleep at night. Eventually Jonah takes the initiative with a phone call to a radio station.
Annie Reed in far away Baltimore is not so lonely. Indeed she is engaged to be married, but the man she is due to marry is Walter, and he is definitely not the dream romance she always wished for. It's a flat, uninspiring relationship. One night she is driving in her car in Baltimore when she switches on the radio. She channel hops a bit, but eventually settles on a phone-in chat show featuring what we in the UK call an 'agony aunt' (a radio counsellor) and she gets hooked on one of her conversations; it’s with Jonah, who has phoned in asking for a new wife for his lonely father. Initially Annie is sceptical about the authenticity and the ethics of this conversation, but when Sam himself is called to speak on the phone, she finds herself more and more drawn to his words of undying love for his wife. She finds herself identifying with this man, even echoing some of his words with her own thoughts. As she listens to his sad tale, she finds a tear trickling down her cheek.
The phone conversation comes to an end, but Annie does not forget this stranger on the chat show. She finds herself obsessing about him, thinking more and more about him, wanting to know what has become of him, wanting more and more to meet him. Annie by profession is a journalist, so she decides to carry out a bit of investigative journalism. She uncovers Sam’s full name, his career as an architect, what he looks like, and his address in Seattle. And she resolves that she will indeed meet him. She writes him a letter, as do a multitude of other women across America who have heard his nation-wide radio chat - And Sam ignores them all.
Sam has been endeavouring to get on with his life. He doesn't want to meet anyone who lives so far away, but with a little help from his friends, he does look up, or is introduced to, some potential dates, and it seems Sam may well settle down with someone else before Annie ever has a chance to even meet him. But Annie, unknowingly, has an advocate and accomplice in Sam's son. Annie’s letter has struck a chord with Jonah, and he resolves to get them together - despite Sam's reticence, and Annie's lack of courage in making herself known to him; one time she actually travels to Seattle, unbeknownst to Sam, and two ‘oh so nearly’ moments occur, one at an airport and one when Sam and Annie catch sight of each other from just across a road, and seem certain to meet at last. Somehow (and a little unbelievably) at the last moment she fails to make contact. She chickens out and flies back home.
(Plot Spoiler) Ultimately Jonah makes a desperate bid to bring his father and this woman together in a setting recollected from an old romantic movie starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr; he will bring them together at the top of the Empire State Building in New York City on St Valentine's Day.
MAIN CAST & CHARACTERS
Dr Marcia Fieldstone
FACTS OF THE FILM
DIRECTOR : Nora Ephron
WRITERS / SCREENPLAY :
- Jeff Arch (story) / Nora Ephron, David S Ward
- Jeff Arch (screenplay)
YEAR OF RELEASE : 1993
RUNNING TIME : 105 minutes
GENRE : Romantic Comedy
GUIDENCE : None required
ACADEMY NOMINATIONS :
Best Music, Original Song / Best Writer, Screenplay
CHARACTERS AND PERFORMANCES
Both Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan are engaging and well matched as the yet-to-meet would-be lovers, and Ross Malinger gives a likeable not-too precocious performance as the tenacious Jonah.
Bill Pullman gives an appropriately subdued performance as the very nice but ever so slightly colourless Walter, and two good cameo performances are given by as Barbara Garrick as the would-be girlfriend Victoria who is afflicted with a really irritating laugh, and Rita Wilson as Suzy, prone to bursting into tears as she recalls a chick flick (see under FAVOURITE SCENES).
Among actresses considered for the part of Annie were Julia Roberts, Michelle Pfeiffer and Debra Winger, who all turned it down. So did Jodie Foster and Kim Basinger who thought the plot sounded silly.
One of the callers to Doctor Marcia's radio show is 'Disappointed of Denver' 'Disappointed of Denver' was in fact the voice of director Nora Ephron.
The crying scene involving 'An Affair to Remember' and 'The Dirty Dozen' was largely improvised.
At one point in the film we see a shop with a Valentine's Day chocolate box in the window. On the box is a silhouette of a man and a woman together. The silhouettes used were actually of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.
The early sequence when Sam divulges his loneliness to Dr Marcia Fieldstone is quite touching for anyone who has lost a loved one; it is easy to relate to.
Other good scenes include any scene with Sam's would-be girlfriend Victoria, whose ability to cackle incessantly at the most mildly amusing comment makes her both fun to watch and impossible to live with.
And the scene in which Sam is having dinner with his sister Suzy and her husband, and the subject of the Cary Grant movie 'An Affair to Remember' is raised, gives Suzy the opportunity to deliver a great girlie performance of dissolving into tears at the memory of the movie.
(Plot Spoiler) But of course it's the finale which makes the film. The 'will they meet? - won't they meet?' question mark (is there any doubt that they will?) over Sam and Annie's long distance non-relationship, has been building up to this moment throughout almost the entire course of the movie. And when they do finally meet, the romantic setting at the top of the Empire State Building makes for one of the most sentimental of closing sequences. She doesn't believe he will be there, but she has to go and see, just in case. Otherwise she will always wonder. Meanwhile Sam is now heading for the skyscraper too, looking for his son. The scene is set, and the scene fits the bill perfectly.
Perhaps the two quotes which best exemplify Annie's desires to meet Sam, are the words Sam speaks on the radio, and the words she utters herself, revealing her attitude to love:
- Doctor Marcia Fieldstone: 'What are you going to do?'
- Sam Baldwin: 'Well, I'm going to get out of bed every morning... breathe in and out all day long. Then, after a while I won't have to remind myself to get out of bed every morning and breathe in and out. And, then after a while, I won't have to think about how I had it great and perfect for a while'.
- Doctor Marcia Fieldstone: 'Tell me what was so special about your wife?'
- Sam Baldwin: 'Well, how long is your program? It was a million tiny little things that, when you added them all up, they meant we were supposed to be together... and I knew it. I knew it the very first time I touched her. It was like coming home, only to no home I'd ever known... I was just taking her hand to help her out of a car and I knew. It was like... magic'.
A sadly sentimental statement like that was unwittingly calculated to pull at the heart-strings of a girl like Annie, because - as she reveals in a conversation with her friend Becky - this is exactly the kind of romantic love she has been looking for. She is discussing a movie with Becky:
- Annie Reed: Now that was when people knew how to be in love. They knew it! Time, distance... nothing could separate them because they knew. It was right. It was real. It was.....
- Becky: A movie! That's your problem! You don't want to be in love. You want to be in love in a movie.
That sums up the desires of both Sam and Annie. Annie yearns for the kind of idyllic love Sam once had, and he yearns for the idyllic love he has now lost.
NEGATIVES ? (CONTAINS PLOT SPOILERS)
No serious negatives mar this film, but one cannot help feeling that a romantic movie like this should end happily for everyone, and this movie certainly doesn't end very happily for Walter. One cannot help feeling that he is being taken for a ride. Effectively, Annie has been cheating on him all this time. Of course, we gloss over this because poor Walter is just a necessary inconvenience to the central storyline. For the sake of the right ending to the movie, Walter takes his rejection well.
At the end of the movie, Sam only just gets to meet Annie and spend about one minute with her before the closing credits. The meeting is just so predictable, I probably needn't bother with all these 'plot spoiler' warnings. But wait a moment - these two don't even really know each other! How do we know they're truly compatible? Maybe on the elevator ride down they start arguing about life, the universe and everything! I'd like to know it's going to be a case of happy ever after, and of course we're just supposed to assume it is, because this isn't the real world, this is the idyll of the Hollywood film world.
IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO WATCH THIS FILM .....
WHAT’S SO GOOD ABOUT IT
At one point in this movie, the director and scriptwriter unashamedly ally 'Sleepless in Seattle' to the same genre and viewer profile as 'An Affair to Remember' with the comment in reference to that movie which is uttered by one of the characters 'That's a chick's movie!' Yet that perhaps does their own film a slight injustice.You don't have to be a 'chick' to enjoy 'Sleepless in Seattle'. Men fall just as deeply in love as women, and can be just as lonely in their hearts. Any man who has experienced that could identify with Sam Baldwin if they’re not embarrassed to admit it. This is a film about two nice people falling in love, and a child who wants his family to be complete once more, and those must be among the most natural of all desires. It's a film for everyone.
One other element contributes most significantly to this movie, and that is the wonderful selection of music playing throughout the 105 minutes running time. The theme of this film is often described as an old-fashioned love story, and in keeping with this atmosphere of old fashioned values of romance, the music is also, for the most part, old and sentimental. And there’s a lot of it. No less than 20 tracks get an airing, sprinkled like a garnish throughout the movie and perfectly complimenting the mood. Among others there’s ’Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ sung by Ray Charles, and ‘Stardust’, sung by Nat King Cole. Celine Dion performs 'When I Fall in Love'. The film starts with Jimmy Durante singing ‘As Time Goes By’ playing over the opening credits, and ends with the same singer performing ‘Make Someone Happy'.
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
This is unashamedly a ‘chick flick’, the sort of movie stereotypically intended to appeal to women. But there is no reason why it shouldn't appeal to males of the species too.
‘Sleepless in Seattle’ is a romantic comedy, or a light-hearted romance. As a comedy it is a film which has its moments. As a romance, it is one of the best and most touching in the past two decades.
‘Sleepless in Seattle’ is therefore a film which undoubtedly can appeal to anyone with a heart in their body and a sense of humour in their funny bone.
MY OTHER ROMANTIC COMEDY FILM REVIEWS INCLUDE ...
- The Apartment
'The Apartment' is a romantic film comedy, an indictment of philandering hypocrisy, and a story of upbeat good nature in the face of loneliness. One of the best received movies of 1960, this great film won Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director
Circumstances lead to a Presidential lookalike playing the role for real - in the process exposing corruption and finding love with the First Lady! A gentle and appealing satire
Genevieve is a good old-fashioned comedy made in 1953, and centred around the famous London to Brighton car rally. This is the story of two eccentric veteran car owners who participate in the rally in an era when driving was so much less complicated
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