Nobody sleeps in Sleepless in Seattle. Could you guess that from the title? The tale of this movie follows Sam and Jonah Baldwin, a father and son, struggling to come to terms with the death of a mother and wife. They move to Seattle for a fresh start and neither are sleeping (hence the title). Jonah calls into a radio station, sharing with the cheesy, honey-voiced psychologist-anchor that his father needs a new wife. On the other side of the country in chilly Baltimore Annie Reed (Meg Ryan) is listening to the conversation unfold, and finds herself increasingly drawn to Sam (Tom Hanks), as he talks about how much he loved his wife. (“How long is your programme?”)
That’s the plot. But the actual central conceit of this movie is slightly different. Is there such a thing as love at first sight? Can you have it twice? And can you fall in love with someone that you’ve never even met?
Is there such a thing as love at first sight? Can you have it twice? And can you fall in love with someone that you’ve never even met?
I’m a sucker for a romantic comedy, and romantic comedies don’t come better than those written and directed by Nora Ephron, the woman who gave us When Harry Met Sally, Heartburn and You’ve Got Mail, another Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan venture. You’ve Got Mail came after this, when the seeds of their chemistry had already been planted. Despite spending hardly any screen time together in this movie, there’s an electricity that crackles between them. Love at first sight. Again.
This is such a good movie. The characters are fully realised, with fleshed out relationships and tics and nuances. Like all Nora Ephron characters, they feel lived-in, with that squishy quality around the edges. The dialogue, like all Nora Ephron dialogue, is impeccable, with the kind of lines that are simply more perfect versions of how real people talk. It’s funny, it’s really funny. When Sam is preparing to date again and his friend is walking him through the nuances of taking a woman out to dinner (“You can’t even turn on the news without hearing about how some babe thought some guy’s butt was cute”). The completely improvised conversation when Rita Wilson cries, retelling the end of The End of the Affair, and Tom Hanks cried, retelling the end of The Dirty Dozen.
There’s a great scene towards the middle of the movie. Annie, worked into a frenzy from staying up late at night to listen to Sam on the radio, decides to go to Seattle to seek him out and clap eyes on him. She arrives at the airport just as Sam and Jonah are farewelling Victoria, the interior decorator with the hyena laugh that Sam has tentatively begun dating. Jonah doesn’t like her. Sam calmly explains to him that this is what dating is like, trying someone else on to see how they fit. “There’s no such thing as a perfect person…” Sam says, before clapping eyes on Annie as she walks through the departures hall. Time slows. The music swells. Boy sees girl.[/half]
It’s this that makes Sleepless in Seattle so special. “You don’t want to be in love,” Rosie O’Donnell, a scene-stealer as Annie’s editor Becky deadpans. “You want to be in love in a movie.” This film isn’t about love at first sight, finding your soulmate, making a connection. It’s about believing in the possibility of love at first sight, believing in finding your soulmate, making that swooping, life-altering connection. The kind of belief that you can only have if you watch a lot of movies. Like Sleepless in Seattle.