After his wife Maggie passes away, Sam Baldwin and his adolescent son Jonah relocate from Chicago to Seattle to escape the grief associated with Maggie's death. Eighteen months later, Sam is still grieving and can't sleep. Although Jonah misses his mother, he wants his father to get a new wife despite Sam having not even contemplated dating again. On Christmas Eve, Sam, on Jonah's initiative, ends up pouring his heart out on a national radio talk show about his magical and perfect marriage to Maggie, and how much he still misses her. Among the many women who hears Sam's story and falls in love with him solely because of it is Annie Reed, a Baltimore based newspaper writer. Annie's infatuation with Sam's story and by association Sam himself is despite being already engaged. But Annie's relationship with her straight-laced fiancé Walter is unlike her dream love life in the movie An Affair to Remember (1957). She even writes to Sam proposing they meet atop the Empire State Building on ... Written by
Regardless of how cyberspace has seemingly diminished it's size, the world is still an awfully big place, and it's impossible for any one person to occupy more than a minuscule portion of it at any given time. So it's imperative that individuals find that special niche for themselves, that little piece of the world that becomes their own, where they can live and love and engage in the pursuit of happiness. And once that `perfect' world is created, it's devastating when something upsets the balance, as in the case of this film, the death of a spouse. When the love of a lifetime is abruptly taken away, how does one recover? Can one recover? How do you go on when your heart has been removed? All valid questions that are explored and addressed in Nora Ephron's touching and romantic `Sleepless In Seattle,' starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. The film begins on a somber note, with the funeral of Maggie Baldwin (Carey Lowell), respectively the wife and mother of Sam Baldwin (Hanks) and his son, Jonah (Ross Malinger). Maggie was the love of Sam's life, and inconsolable after her passing, he decides the best thing for himself and his son is to move to another city and try for a fresh start. So they head west as far as possible, to Seattle, where Sam remains unable to emerge from the funk of his loss. Christmas and New Year's is especially tough on Sam and Jonah, and around this time Jonah happens to tune into a late night talk show featuring Dr. Marcia Fieldstone (Caroline Aaron), whose job is to help her listeners with their problems. Jonah calls her and tells their story, then takes the phone to his dad in the next room, and in deference to his son, Sam consents to talk about his situation on National radio. In the Baltimore area, writer Annie Reed (Ryan) is listening, and touched by the sincerity in Sam's voice, she cajoles an assignment that subsequently takes her to Seattle, where she attempts to hook up with Sam, a man she knows only as a needful, disembodied voice from the radio.
So begins a romantic odyssey that probably could only happen in the movies, but it makes no difference because in Ephron's capable hands, this story works, and it works beautifully. There's a line in the movie, in fact, that kind of sums it all up: Becky (played by Rosie O'Donnell) says something to the effect to Annie that, `You don't want love, you want `movie' love. And maybe that's why this movie is so endearing and enduring; it's about the kind of love you find in a perfect world, the kind of love everybody wants and needs (though few will admit it, even to themselves) but rarely finds, and Ephron knows exactly how to make it connect with her audience. It has to do with understanding basic human needs and knowing how to translate it all into a cinematic art form that will effectively reach those who see it. And Nora Ephron does it as well-- or possibly better-- than any director before or since, and as she proved later with `You've Got Mail,' this film was no fluke; she knows her stuff, and she knows how to deliver it. It's intentionally and shamelessly sentimental, but rather than maudlin, Ephron hits just the right emotional tone, and it's perfect, from the romance to the humor she injects at just the right moment to offset the drama, to the music-- using just the right song at just the right time-- that does so much to enhance the story.
Having a great cast, of course, certainly helped her in her endeavor, beginning with Tom Hanks who, with his portrayal of Sam, demonstrates once again what a consummate actor he is. Few actors can step into any given genre of film and create a character that is so complete and believable every time out the way Hanks can. Some of his characters may share some traits and have similarities, but he manages to make each one unique, which is quite a feat. When you can watch Hanks and forget that you're watching `Hanks,' you know he's accomplished something. As an actor he is remarkably giving, and so undaunted when it comes to using and exposing what he has inside. And his ability to circumvent any natural inhibitions makes him great at what he does, and it's what makes a character like Sam so memorable.
Meg Ryan, as well, is an accomplished actor who can play drama as well as comedy (check out her performance in `When A Man Loves A Woman'), but she really sparkles in romantic comedies like this one, and she is absolutely perfect for the role of Annie (just as she was for her role in `You've Got Mail'). She makes Annie a very real person, and through her we can empathize with Sam's situation, as she enables and allows the audience to experience what she is feeling right along with her. Ryan, through her character, makes that emotional involvement possible, and it's one of the strengths of the film. And like Hanks with Sam, Ryan makes Annie a character you're going to remember.
The exemplary supporting cast includes Bill Pullman (Walter), Rita Wilson (Suzy), Victor Gerber (Greg), Tom Riis Farrell (Rob), David Hyde Pierce (Dennis), Dana Ivey (Claire), Gaby Hoffman (Jessica) and Rob Reiner (Jay). Essentially a poignant and heart-felt treatise by Nora Ephron on life and love, `Sleepless In Seattle' is a film that offers a multitude of rewards if you are simply willing to reach out and open yourself up to it. All you have to do is let it in. Do it, and you'll be glad you did, guaranteed. It's the magic of the movies. I rate this one 10/10.
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