On June 19, 1993, I went to an early sneak preview of Sleepless in Seattle. I was a hopeless romantic teen and the premise seemed like my dream movie. I hated it, and then had to watch it become the biggest surprise hit of the summer. 23 years is a long time and I’ve often found myself re-evaluating movies I didn’t like in my youth, so when I saw Sleepless in Seattle was playing on Starz this month, I set my DVR.
I still don’t like the message of Sleepless in Seattle, but now I find it an interesting anthropological study of what people wanted in the ‘90s. In fact, I understand what Nora Ephron was selling even better now that I’ve lived some life and loss myself.
First of all, Sam (Tom Hanks)’s wife Maggie (Carey Lowell) was this perfect marriage with no problems. Only the cruel blow of cancer took her away from him. That is not real. You can miss your wife and still remember the struggles that make any marriage last.
I always felt Sam was Annie (Meg Ryan)’s dream guy only because she’d never have to deal with the reality of their relationship. The movie ends when they meet so it’s entirely about getting a relationship, not having a relationship. It’s still that, but it seems relatively harmless now. They’ll figure it out when they move in together. Let ‘em have the Empire State Building.
It’s also selling the idea of doing a movie reference in real life. It’s oddly redundant for a rom-com to crib another rom-com’s bit. One day we may see Ryan Gosling holding a boom box outside Emma Stone’s window. This one very much misreads this particular movie. We tend to remember the romantic parts of love stories, but they’re all filled with tragedy and hardship too. If we look at the whole picture, we would see that a movie is not the model we want to follow to lead a happy life.
Still, I had never seen Love Affair or An Affair To Remember when I first saw Sleepless in Seattle. They’re trying to meet at the Empire State Building when the whole point of the original movie was that she didn’t make it to the meeting. This time, I did pick up on Annie almost getting hit by a taxi, much earlier in the film though. Also, describing the Affair scene, Rita Wilson says Deborah Kerr was crippled. We don’t say that anymore.
I do have a better understanding of how hard it is to start dating again. Could you imagine if poor Sam had to deal with Tinder? Looking back, the fact that listeners to the radio call in show wrote him letters is quaint. No one writes letters anymore. They don’t even write e-mails or text really. They just swipe left or right.
Jonah (Ross Malinger) is still too much of the cute kid trope, but the father/son relationship is endearing. You do have to explain a new relationship to your children, but the film invalidates this by giving the kid the fantasy. Maybe I underestimated the danger of a kid going alone to a pre-Giuliani New York. That makes the finale more intense.
In 1993 I hated Meg Ryan’s immature America’s sweetheart schtick but now I resent how America turned on her. Oh, so hiding in the closet is only cute when you’re 20 years too old to behave like a teenage girl is cute but when you’re 40 years too old to act like a teenager, audiences aren’t interested anymore?
Annie is more fair to Walter (Bill Pullman) than I remembered. Throughout her investigation of Sleepless in Seattle she says Walter deserves better than her. Annie has empathy and she’s also a journalist, so I can more relate to the call of a story. Walter is actually empowered when he gives her up in the end. I’ve tried to force a marriage to work. It’s better to heed the signs and move on. Still, Pullman to this day is typecast as “the other guy” in rom-coms, even though this was the last time he played it. He got the girl in While You Were Sleeping and did the anti-rom-com in Mr. Wrong.
The issue of stalking is still problematic. I forgot that Annie hired a private eye to surreptitiously photograph Sam and his son. That’s… inappropriate. If the genders were reversed, her trip to Seattle to spy on them playing at the beach would be creepy. Hanks gets his revenge in You’ve Got Mail though. There, he uses Meg Ryan’s personal information to run her out of business, and in the end she still says she was hoping it was him the whole time. My favorite Hanks/Ryan is still Joe Vs. The Volcano.
Sleepless in Seattle is still easy to watch, despite its frustrating messages, because Hanks was still being funny. Even in the structure of a grief drama, he was doing the com part of rom-com. His Dirty Dozen riff is a welcome antidote to the sappy homage Affair to Remember is getting, and I still think suggesting that “Doctor” is a first name is one of the funniest lines in cinema.
23 years later, I don’t worry that anybody is obsessing over a far fetched cross-country love story. Now I’m worried people won’t even leave the house to meet somebody. Sleepless in Seattle seems more like a time capsule of an era when people’s unhealthy fantasies were at least more ambitious than they are now. Set your DVRs to revisit Sleepless in Seattle this month on Starz. Now do I have it in me to give Guarding Tess another chance?