|Sleepless in Seattle|
|DVD Romantic Comedy|
|Written by Bill Warren|
|Wednesday, 25 June 1997|
'Sleepless in Seattle' is a romantic comedy of surpassing slickness. 'Sleepless' director/co-writer Nora Ephron and stars Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan all recently worked together again on the 1998 hit 'You've Got Mail.' Even if you enjoyed 'You've Got Mail' (I did), that's no guarantee you'll have fond feelings for the earlier collaboration.
'Sleepless in Seattle' takes its title from the alliterative tag bestowed on Sam Baldwin (Hanks), a recent widower who gets shanghaied by his little boy Jonah into speaking on the air with a radio talk-show host. Sam is still mourning the death of his wife, Jonah's mom, to the extent that he's, well, sleepless. His simple declaration of grief and of intense love for his late wife inspires women all over the country to write in to the radio station, offering Sam comfort. One of those instantly smitten is journalist Annie Reed (Ryan), a Baltimore journalist who can't help feeling that Sam is her destiny, even though she's engaged to nice-guy Walter (Bill Pullman). Annie is moved to write a letter to Sam, which is intercepted by Jonah. The little boy is keen for his dad to meet this great-sounding lady, and when Sam drags his heels at the thought of traveling to meet a stranger who might be a kook, Jonah takes matters into his own hands.
The script of 'Sleepless,' which Ephron co-wrote with David S. Ward and Jeff Arch, from Arch's story, borrows openly from the Cary Grant/Deborah Kerr drama 'An Affair to Remember' (Annie and her friend are forever watching it on tape and quoting it) and a bit less vehemently from 'The Parent Trap.' There's nothing wrong with all this, except that Sam's existence seems to consist wholly of moping about his loss and wondering whether he's being a good single parent to Jonah. Annie, who is supposed to be a reporter, doesn't appear to have any inner life at all beyond dreaming of a soulmate--she's not someone you'd want to be friends with, much less marry. Her treatment of her patient fiancé is deplorable. Woody Allen regularly gets pilloried in the press for creating male characters who keep up appearances in long-term relationships while frantically pursuing illicit new loves. Why is this behavior adorable when perpetrated by a male but supposedly adorable when done by someone played by Ryan? This isn't the actress's fault (though she does play up the cute factor something fierce), but it's hard to root for a romance when both principals barely register as human on their own, let alone as potential halves of a couple.
This may be a minority view. 'Sleepless' has tremendously popular in theatrical release and on video, so obviously a lot of viewers responded to its intended charms. Hanks, Ryan and the supporting cast are all personable and the dialogue is consistently clever.
Certainly, 'Sleepless in Seattle' is unimpeachably well-made. Sven Nykvist's cinematography is glowingly beautiful, and Ephron never misses an opportunity to visually link her would-be lovers. There's a physically lovely sequence in Chapter 25 that finds Sam and Annie, separated by half a continent, both staring out over water by moonlight, so that they might as well be side by side. In Chapter 31, the detail-oriented Ephron even arranges for a bright yellow triangular object--a folded slicker in Annie's closet and a light in Tom's home--to appear in the upper-right corner of the screen as she cuts back and forth between the two households. Chapter 48 has a terrifically stylish dissolve from closing elevator doors to a luminous Empire State Building. Perhaps this is what audiences have been responding to: pure sentiment presented with intelligent visual gloss. The sound is fine and mellow throughout, with an especially good soul cover of 'Bye Bye Blackbird' over the action in Chapter 25.