After his wife Maggie passes away, Sam Baldwin and his 8-year-old 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 hear Sam's story and fall 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
"Sleepless in Seattle", sleeper hit of 1993, was written and directed by the late Norah Ephron, Best Original Screenplay nominee for this film and for "When Harry Met Sally..." and director of 1998's "You've Got M@il". The three movies, all starring Meg Ryan, and Tom Hanks for the last two, form an unofficial trilogy that explores an idea romances only tend to overfly: "what does it mean to be meant for each other?".
And each film had an interesting angle. "When Harry Met Sally..." was about the evolution of relationships, a man and a woman who couldn't really stand each other until they realize that it was more about "understanding". Maturity, coupled with a few failures, highlighted their convergences so they became friends. It all came down to one question "is friendship an end or a step?". "You've Got M@il" updated the story for the AOL and Internet age, it was about two person who were in "Harry vs. Sally" mode for the most part but discovered they had far more in common when they were two computer screens apart.
In these two movies, there was a key element: the two protagonists knew each other, so in both cases, you couldn't possibly fall in love with a total stranger. But isn't that notion of stranger or acquaintance overrated? Surely, the rom-com witty sociologist couldn't leave the fairy tale alone and ignore the possibility of two people falling in love without knowing each other, or without sharing more than two minutes of screen-time. I think this is a reason enough to love the film, if it doesn't reinvent the wheel and has it share of forgivable contrivances, let's give the credit to Ephron to have made a romance whose concept is beautifully rendered in the poster where the two protagonists stare at each other while obviously being many time zones apart.
"Sleepless in Seattle" has a shamelessly romantic premise but it knows how to insert it into the realities of life. The first minutes are sad and emotional and shows a man devastated by the loss of his wife and wisely telling his young boy Jonah (Ross Malinger) that it's no use asking why these things happen (or was it a voice-over?). The man is Sam Baldwin and he's played by Tom Hanks in one of his last long curly-haired "comedic" roles. After the film, he'd cut them short for "Philadelphia" and the rest of the decade and become Hollywood's darling. I just miss pre-millennial comedic Hanks although comedic isn't necessary indicative of his role. So Sam understand that staying in Chicago is a no-option as it will constantly remind him of his wife so he moves to Seattle, and the opening credits start.
Meanwhile we meet Annie, an optimistic woman engaged with Walter, the nicest man ever but who seems to suffer from every kind of allergy, the man is played by Bill Pullman, and I'm glad that for the most ungrateful role as the disposable fiancé, they picked someone who could have been believable in Hanks' shoes. Ryan is just adorable as the idealistic girl floating on a cloud until a fateful night where she listens to a radio program named "Sleepless in Seattle" and where Jonah talks about his father's difficulties to mourn his mother, later Sam takes the phone and opens his hearts to millions of listeners, especially female, creating the first and unique cinematic collective case of "love at first hearing".
Annie doesn't exactly love Sam but she just can't resist contemplating the possibility that he might be the one, there's something just too formal with Walter and she's scared at the prospect of spending her whole life with "what if" questions. Sometimes, love doesn't come from the person than the idea of this person and how it would hold up. I guess the most interesting part from the film is that Sam wasn't stuck in his "lonely widower" position and decided to take the reins of his life and date women, and even more surprisingly, there was some genuine chemistry with Victoria (Barbara Garrick) but it seems like her hyena-like laughing was the equivalent of David's allergy, the obligatory mood killer.
I'm not sure I liked the way Jonah behaved, too precociously at times to be believable but those where the 90's. And you've got to appreciate the way the film allows these contrivances to happen but without undermining our own feelings about Sam and Annie being meant for each other. There's a moment where Annie is shown peeling an apple in one long spiral and later, the pay-off comes when Sam tells Jonah that it's details like this that made his mother so unique to him. The film also takes the right distance from its own concept by allowing Sam and Annie to "meet" at two separate instances. Naturally, the romance does an excellent job at creating the perfect missed opportunities, we know the game, we've been there, and it's part of the deal.
And at that point of the review, my only regret is that I didn't see "An Affair to Remember", I would have loved to juxtapose the two movies. But I love how the film is used as a running gag showing that there are a few irremediable differences between men and women (something that wouldn't pass today given the current gender ramifications, characters would ask "what's a man?", "what's a woman?") and I love how the film is used as leitmotif, just as other impossible love stories like "Casablanca" in "When Harry Met Sally..;" and "Pride and Prejudice" in "You've Got M@il".
And it's interesting you know because Ephron separates between love as-in-the-movies and love as-in-her-movies, but at the end, they just work the same, maybe the underlying message is "yes, real life can work like in the movies".
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