On Sleepless in Seattle

Featuring Tom Hanks (The Da Vinci CodeCatch Me If You Can), Bill Pullman (Torchwood: Miracle Day, Independence Day), and Victor Garber (Legally Blonde), Sleepless in Seattle is a sweet-intended movie about finding love via radio show. According to Decider‘s article, “My First Time … Watching ‘Sleepless In Seattle’ And Realizing Meg Ryan Is a Stalker“:

Even though I’ve watched Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan‘s You’ve Got Mail (also written and directed by Nora Ephron) more times than I want to count, I somehow had never watched Sleepless in Seattle until recently. Which is totally crazy because it’s one of those classic rom-coms that everyone always insists is one of the best. How I’ve managed to get through brunch conversation up until now remains a mystery. But, after watching it, I’m not so sure why it’s considered so great. Long story short: Meg Ryan’s a total stalker. Long story long: let’s begin.

The movie starts the way all great rom-coms start, and that’s with a beloved wife and mother dying of cancer. Before you get the sads, don’t worry: we don’t even meet her when she’s alive, so there’s no reason to feel anything but hopeful. Especially because we know that she had to die for Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan to end up together. Sometimes that’s just the way the world works. Also, now’s as good of a time as ever to point out Hanks’ real-life wife, Rita Wilson, plays his sister in the movie. Do with this information what you will. Personally, I freaked the eff out because I freak out when married people do crazy things like act together.

Fast forward many months and Sam Baldwin (Hanks) and his son Jonah (Ross Malinger) are living in Seattle together. But barely living, because, ya know, Mom’s dead. One night Jonah calls into a radio show and tells the therapist/DJ that his dad needs a new wife. The therapist/DJ, seeing a huge ratings boost, is all like, “Jonah, put your sad sack father on the phone.” So Sam gets on the phone and is all, “I’m hanging up! This is insane, but before I hang up, let me talk about my dead wife for hours and hours.” He’s dubbed “Sleepless in Seattle” because he can’t sleep since his wife died and because he lives in Seattle. Not to brag, but I put way more thought into my ’90s screen names than that. Just saying.

Meanwhile, across the country in Baltimore, Annie Reed (Meg Ryan) is listening to the radio show and getting all emotional about this sleepless stranger she doesn’t know. She’s currently engaged to Walter (Bill Pullman), but from the very first scenes we see him in there are red flags all over the place. First of all, his name is Walter. #LoserAlert. Second of all, he sleeps with a humidifier, which everyone know is a modern-day chastity belt. Third of all, we know Annie ends up with Sam. So Walter’s fucked. Or not fucked, because he has that damn humidifier. Walter is never getting laid until he gets his nasal issues figured out.

Not even by Annie, who’s too busy typewriting a letter to Sam. Jonah l-o-v-e-s her letter and is like, “Dad, she’s the one!” In the letter, Annie suggests that Sam meet her on the top of the Empire State Building on Valentine’s Day. Because she’s going there with her fiance and… Well, there’s not really a good reason for a single dad to travel across the country to meet a stranger. But file this away as very important information!!! (And yes, your eyes don’t deceive you, that is Rosie! Always a best friend, never a leading lady.)

However, Sam’s having none of that. Annie’s not the only crazy lady sending him letters. Nope, he’s getting tons of fan mail from lonely woman who are charmed at the fact that this guy misses his wife. “Well, I know he’s not a total sociopath, and tell you what, I like the fact that he never sleeps, it will never be too early on a Saturday to do a weekend trip to Bed, Bath and Beyond,” they say as they lick their envelopes and propose marriage to a man they’ve never met. Sam, who would be appalled at the entire prospect of Tinder, refuses to give these women a chance. He’s all, “I’ll meet a woman in real life.” And he does and she’s the worst and Jonah and I totally hate her.

So Jonah does the natural thing and has his eight-year-old friend Gaby Hoffmann (I know, right!) book him a plane ticket to New York City on Valentine’s Day. Her mom’s a travel agent so this whole thing is easy peasy. It’s just a shame his father has a romantic weekend planned with Victoria, his new girlfriend, that same day. Or does he have them with someone else?! Stay tuned!!

Back in Baltimore, Annie’s taking her interest in Sam from the curious level to the straight-up Lifetime biopic stalker level. After hearing him on the radio and thinking about him endlessly, she uses her work resources to hunt him down. No literally: she goes all the way to Seattle. Because she’s Meg Ryan and doing all kinds of crinkly-nosed Meg Ryan things, we’re supposed to find this decision totes endearing. Even though, if you think about it for more than two seconds, it’s a sign of a mentally unhinged woman. Cross-country flights are expensive, even back in the ’90s!

After seeing Sam at his house, Annie follows him and Jonah to a beach and watches the two have extremely Instagram-friendly father-son time. Please know that she never approaches him during this entire day trip to Seattle, she just watches from around the corner, LIKE A STALKER. At one point, they do see each other in the airport, but they don’t say anything. The love connection is (allegedly) palpable, however, and we’re supposed to feel our hearts grow three times bigger. But all I can think about is how she thought it was okay to go to his house.

Fast forward to Valentine’s Day, and Jonah takes off for New York City. No one questions an eight-year-old traveling alone at any point during this entire adventure. Tom Hanks, being a great father and all, ditches his V-Day plans and goes after his son to New York. Sorry, Victoria!

Meanwhile, Annie’s in New York City with her fiancé and she’s being a total commitment-phobic bitch. Finally, at one point, when they’re celebrating their engagement, she tells him that she’s been having a one-sided emotional affair with a man she heard on the radio and that she actually has plans to meet him tonight. Walter, knowing that being with a woman was too good to be true, tells her to go after him. She’s gone before he can even ask her to split the bill. She arrives at the Empire State Building moments after Sam. Their eyes meet, and it’s fate. I guess. I mean, I would’ve liked to see their first date. I’m sure they have a lot to catch up on, like, “Why the fuck did I see you in Seattle???”

Finally, according to the Mental Floss article, “15 Heartfelt Facts About ‘Sleepless in Seattle’“:

Sleepless in Seattle was a meta-rom-com that managed to comment—both humorously and seriously—on the unrealistic expectations of love that the grand romantic movies of the past have bestowed on their audiences, while being one of the most popular romantic movies ever filmed. Here are 15 facts about the Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan classic that will help you sleep better at night.

1. IT WAS NORA EPHRON’S FIRST MAJOR DIRECTORIAL JOB.

She was behind the camera for 1992’s This Is My Life first, but Sleepless in Seattle proved to be her first big hit as director. Ephron also co-wrote the Oscar nominated screenplay with Jeff Arch and David S. Ward. (Nora’s sister, author-screenwriter-playwright Delia Ephron, did an uncredited “punch up” to make the movie funnier.)

2. SHE HAD A PERSONAL EXPERIENCE WITH THE MOVIE THATSLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE REFERENCES.

There is a lot of talk of—and intentional plot points taken from—the 1957 Cary Grant movie An Affair to Remember. When the film came out, Ephron’s mother took her teenage daughter to see it. After the happy ending concluded, and while Eprhon was still in tears, her motherintroduced her to the star of the movie.

3. JULIA ROBERTS TURNED DOWN THE LEAD.

In a 2014 interview with InStyle, the Oscar-winning actress shared that she had been “offeredSleepless in Seattle but couldn’t do it,” adding that, “[Meg Ryan] and Tom Hanks are just such a jewel of a fit in that. I guess what they did for that moment in time is sort of what Richard [Gere] and I were doing across town (in the 1990 film Pretty Woman), you know?”

4. TOM HANKS ALSO TURNED IT DOWN.

Before Ephron took a pass at rewriting the script, Hanks was offered the lead and said no, as he didn’t think he was right for the part.

5. JASON SCHWARTZMAN AUDITIONED TO PLAY HANKS’ SON, JONAH.

They went with Ross Malinger instead. Malinger retired from acting in 2006 to manage a car shop in Malibu.

6. PARKER POSEY WAS CUT OUT OF HER FEATURE DEBUT.

If the actress’s scene hadn’t been cut, Sleepless in Seattle would have been Posey’s first acting role in a Hollywood movie. Ephron kindly sent her a note to say that it wasn’t her fault that her scene was taken out. In 1998, Posey reunited with Ephron, Hanks, and Ryan forYou’ve Got Mail.

7. SAM AND ANNIE LIVED IN CHICAGO AT THE SAME TIME (BEFORE THE EDITOR GOT A HOLD OF IT).

A first act scene was shot which revealed that Annie (Ryan) had at some point lived in Chicagoat the same time as Sam (Hanks). Editor Robert Reitano cut it.

8. EPHRON ATTEMPTED TO RE-CREATE A NEW YORKER COVER IN THE OPENING SCENE.

The Chicago skyline is well showcased at the funeral. It was meant to evoke Saul Steinberg’s 1976 New Yorker cover, View of the World From 9th Avenue, that shows Manhattan as the center of the world.

9. EPHRON WAS THE VOICE OF A DEPRESSED PERSON.

The director voiced one of the radio callers, “Disappointed in Denver.”

10. ANNIE WALKED OUT OF THE SAME DOOR IN BALTIMORE THAT SAM DID IN SEATTLE.

The door was actually shipped almost 3000 miles to help connect the two main actors.

11. THE SOUP NAZI WAS REFERENCED IN THE FILM, TWO YEARS BEFORE SEINFELD DID.

When a writer in Annie’s office was pitching a story and talked of a man that “sells the greatest soup you have ever eaten” while simultaneously doubling as “the meanest man in America,”he was talking about Ali “Al” Yeganeh, the proprietor of Soup Kitchen International. For what it’s worth, Yeganeh is from Iran, not Germany.

12. TOM HANKS ARGUED THAT HIS CHARACTER WOULD TRY HARDER TO GET LAID.

In the script, Sam opts out of spending the night with Victoria because Jonah gets upset. Hanks argued to Ephron that it was “horseshit.” After not getting some for four years, Sam would leave Jonah to cry with the babysitter and go be with his girlfriend. The solution was to have Sam determined to leave for the night until Jonah snuck off to get on a plane to New York.

13. BILL PULLMAN WAS TOLD HE WOULD HAVE A BIGGER ROLE.

According to the actor who played Annie’s allergy-afflicted boyfriend Walter, the movie was described to him as more of a The Philadelphia Story situation: a love triangle where he would play the Jimmy Stewart to Hanks’s Cary Grant (there’s that name again) and Ryan’s Katharine Hepburn.

14. THEY FILMED IN SEATTLE DURING A DROUGHT.

Water trucks had to be brought in to make some rain. The waste of water angered the city.

15. TRISTAR GOT 25 TO 30 PHONE CALLS A DAY FROM PEOPLE WANTING TO KNOW WHAT TIRAMISU WAS.

Since Rob Reiner’s character Jay only used tiramisu as a word for a sexual act, without mentioning that it was also an Italian dessert, some moviegoers resorted to calling the distributor of the film for answers. (It was the pre-mental_floss or Google days of 1993, after all.) Reiner has gone on record to say that he finds tiramisu “overrated.”

According to Roger Ebert:

If love at first sight is a reality, then in this information age there should also be the possibility of love at first cybercontact.

When people meet via computers or personal ads or phone-in radio shows – when their first sight of each other is through a communications medium – isn’t it still possible that some essential chemistry is communicated? That the light in an eye can somehow be implied even over thousands of miles? That’s the hope explored in Nora Ephron’s “Sleepless in Seattle,” an unapologetically romantic movie about two people who fall in love from opposite sides of the continent, through the medium of a radio program. In Baltimore, Meg Ryan plays a woman who is already safely engaged – too safely – to a man whose only fault is that he appears to be allergic to almost everything. Then one night, driving in her car, she tunes in a broadcast as a young boy is appealing to the host for help with his father.

Driving through the night, Ryan listens to the story. The man (Tom Hanks) is called to the phone and we learn that after his wife died he went into a deep depression before finally packing up his son and moving from Chicago to Seattle. He thought a change of scenery might help, but apparently it hasn’t.

Something in the man’s voice – or maybe something in his soul that is transmitted along with his voice – appeals to Ryan. She can’t get this guy out of her mind. Meanwhile, in Seattle, we get to know the Hanks character, who is an awfully nice man but very sad, and his son (Ross Malinger), who hopes his dad will meet the right woman.

His dad has indeed met a woman, but since she has a laugh that resembles a hyena’s mating call, the son doesn’t consider her a contender. Ephron develops this story with all of the heartfelt sincerity of a 1950s tearjerker (indeed, the movie’s characters spend a lot of time watching “An Affair to Remember” and using it as their romantic compass). There is no irony, no distance, no angle on the material. It is about two people who are destined for one another, and that’s that. And that was fine with me.

Ephron’s earlier screenplay for “When Harry Met Sally…,” starred Ryan and Billy Crystal, and spent a lot of time showing Harry and Sally not meeting. This film, too, keeps its lovers separate most of the time – although there is a fuzzy scene when Ryan stands in the middle of the street and Hanks gawks at her, and bells ring in his libido.

The plot mechanics, in fact, reminded me of some of those contrived 1940s and 1950s romantic melodramas where events conspired to bring the lovers close but no closer, and then the writers toyed with us bymanufacturing devices to keep them apart. By the end of “Sleepless in Seattle,” we’re hoping the lovers will meet atop the Empire State Building (a steal from “An Affair to Remember”), and the movie is doing everything to keep that from happening short of assigning Donald Trump to tear it down.

The actors are well-suited to this material. Tom Hanks keeps a certain detached edge to his character, which keeps him from being simply a fall guy. Meg Ryan, who is one of the most likable actresses around and has a certain ineffable Doris Day innocence, is able to convince us of the magical quality of her sudden love for a radio voice, without letting the device seem like the gimmick is assuredly is.

“Sleepless in Seattle” is as ephemeral as a talk show, as contrived as the late show, and yet so warm and gentle I smiled the whole way through.

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4 thoughts on “On Sleepless in Seattle

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