Sleepless in Seattle

Directed By: Nora Ephron

Starring: Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Bill Pullman, Ross Malinger, Rosie O'Donnell, Rob Reiner, and David Hyde Pierce

The legendary Nora Ephron passed away earlier this week.  She was truly an innovator who helped mold the romantic comedy genre into what it is today.  I can think of no better way to honor her legacy than to revisit her filmography and knock back a few drinks in the process.  Given that 2013 will mark the 20th anniversary of Sleepless in Seattle, I was going to wait until next year to review the timeless romantic comedy.  However, with the untimely passing of Ephron, my plans have obviously changed.  With this being one of her signature films as both a writer and director, there's no better place to start this retro series on the works of Ephron.

Architect Sam Baldwin (Tom Hanks) and his son Jonah (Ross Malinger) grieve the loss of their wife and mother Maggie (Carey Lowell).  Needing a fresh start, they leave their home in Chicago and move to Seattle.  Eighteen months later, Jonah sees his lonely, sleepless father not really moving on from his grief.  He wants his father to find companionship.  With this weighing heavily on his mind on Christmas Eve in 1992, Jonah calls into a nationally syndicated late night radio broadcast to discuss his father's problems with Dr. Marcia Fieldstone (Caroline Aaron).  He convinces his reluctant father to tell the host about how much he misses his late wife Maggie.  Sam pours his heart out for all the listeners to hear.

Baltimore Sun reporter Annie Reed (Meg Ryan) happens to be listening to the broadcast of the guy dubbed as "Sleepless in Seattle".  Like many female listeners, she instantly falls in love with him.  Despite the fact that she's happily engaged to a guy named Walter (Bill Pullman), she's enamored with this guy after hearing about his troubles and feeling this intangible connection to him.  After watching the classic romance An Affair to Remember, she writes a letter to Sam inviting him to meet her atop the Empire State Building on Valentine's Day.  She throws it away, but her overzealous friend Becky (Rosie O'Donnell) mails it.  Jonah happens to read the letter and becomes fixated on getting his dad to meet Annie.

While the premise of this film is something that could only happen in the movies, Sleepless in Seattle is Nora Ephron's starry-eyed exploration of love lost and found.  It's her commentary on whether a lifelong romance is a happy, satisfactory accident or an inevitable, undeniable destiny.  It's her way of asking whether lightning can strike twice in the same place.  Ephron even manages to make the film an ode to the classic romance An Affair to Remember starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr.  Sure, there are plenty of cheesy and sappy moments, but there are plenty of hilarious and touching ones as well.  In Sleepless in Seattle, Ephron thoroughly examines the romantic, fantastical notion of love.

Our two lead actors give great, passionate performances.  As Annie Reed, Meg Ryan does a great job of conveying a woman who's never really fallen in love.  She gives us a goofy yet thoroughly entertaining character.  She's unabashedly cheesy, but we love her.  Back in 1993, Tom Hanks was in his prime, and it shows.  He's the practical guy who brings everything back to earth.  Whenever I think the film is starting to go too far with its overly sentimental view of love, Hanks makes a wisecrack that reflects exactly what I'm thinking.  His character's wit and charm throughout the film are the stuff that makes this guy so likable, even back then.  It’s also the stuff that keeps the film balanced with the right dose of practicality and fantasy.

Chemistry is absolutely critical in a romance film like Sleepless in Seattle.  When Ryan and Hanks are with different significant others — Bill Pullman's dull character Walter and Barbara Garrick's equally dull Victoria respectively — they each deliver the stale chemistry that leaves us longing for something more, something better.  When they're together, there’s pure magic.  It’s the perfect antithesis.

One of the things I love about Sleepless in Seattle is the music.  The tunes selected by Marc Shaiman and Nora Ephron work beautifully with everything else we experience in the film.  Whether they use classics from Ray Charles, Nat "King" Cole, or Louis Armstrong, the music perfectly accentuates everything else going on in the film — each character's emotional troubles, Ephron's ongoing discourse on love, and even the times of year during which the film is set. Shaiman and Ephron hit all the right notes musically.

Sleepless in Seattle is a classic love movie that sets the bar for starry-eyed romantic comedies.  It's a grand, sweeping romance that takes us back to the days of old.  It's one of the late legend Nora Ephron's signature films and a great film you can't miss if you love a good romantic comedy.  Grab a few wine coolers because Sleepless in Seattle gets a 0.03% rating.