' ' Cinema Romantico: Sleepless in Seattle

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Sleepless in Seattle

"You don't want to be in love. You want to be in love in a movie."

It turns out I saw "Sleepless in Seattle" at the wrong age. The first time I saw it was on a giant bus in 1994 returning home from the ELCA Youth Gathering in Atlanta. I was about to become a junior in high school. A Tribe Called Quest and Public Enemy were the lights of my life. I loved "Last of the Mohicans", yes, but I still had not necessarily come to terms with exactly what that meant, which is to say I'm pretty sure that when all the girls on the bus were arguing for "Sleepless in Seattle" I was arguing for something like "Hot Shots! Part Deux."

ANYWAY, that was the one and only time I saw "Sleepless in Seattle" and, thus, I was pre-disposed to not liking it because at that age I was a jittery, perpetually terrified teenager and probably knew that admitting to enjoying a rom com was akin to social suicide (even though I'm pretty sure I'd already committed social suicide). But I was ALSO pre-disposed to not liking it because I had yet to grow into my true self and realize that I was all about what the ancients used to call fatum.

When Nora Ephron passed away I did not offer a tribute because I will admit her work never meant that much to me personally. Then I read my friend Becky's missive in the wake of her death I knew I owed it to Becky and to Ms. Ephron and to the movie gods to re-visit something of hers and I knew pretty much straight away that it needed to be "Sleepless in Seattle." I needed to see it in the cold hard light of adulthood.

Sam's (Tom Hanks) wife has passed away from cancer. Grieving hardcore, he decides to pack up he and his son Jonah (Ross Malinger) and light out for Seattle for the requisite new start in which he really doesn't start much of anything new aside from more grieving. Jonah can't stand to see his dad in such misery and so on a lonely December 24th he calls into a late night radio talk show, gets his father on the phone and Sam finds himself discussing his late wife in reverent tones as thousands of women across the country who have apparently foregone Christmas Eve service (or are simply waiting for Midnight Mass) listen in.

One of these women is Annie (Meg Ryan), on her way home after revealing her engagement to Walter (Bill Pullman), apparently inflicted with every allergy known to man, to her family. She, like the thousands of other women, finds her soul stirred by this heartbreaking voice, and starts questioning her engagement not because hapless Walter is necessarily unlikable but because she doesn't feel that......magic. And that's the buzz word for "Sleepless in Seattle"......magic. It's just tragic, if it ain't got that magic.

Annie pens a letter and sends it off to Sam who disregards it along with the thousands of other letters from the thousands of other women. But Jonah, operating with his cosmically inclined young sorta girlfriend Jessica (Gaby Hoffmann, who threatens to steal the movie from BOTH Tom and Meg), finds himself responding less to his dad’s new gal (Barbara Garrick) who laughs like Elmer Fudd sitting on a juicer than to this mysterious Annie which leads to him trying to play (OK) Cupid.

In a way, Ephron's film foretold the dawn of internet dating (which she would chronicle several years later in the less successful "You've Got Mail" - a movie that possessed too many inessential tangents as opposed to the more streamlined narrative of "Seattle") and, by extension, the fear internet dating would instill in romantics. "This is what single people do," Sam explains to Jonah at an airport gate when Jonah expresses his apathy for Victoria. "They try on other people and see if they fit. But nobody's perfect. There's no such thing as a perfect-" And, of course, it is at that very moment Annie herself, showing up in Seattle in an effort to track down Sam without knowing what he looks like, disembarks a plane right in front of Sam. He sees her and energetic charged particles collide as it is proved – yet again in defiance of Joe E. Brown’s oft-quoted line – that some people ARE perfect.

Throughout the film characters find themselves turning to the 1957 film "An Affair To Remember" as a sort of guidebook, and I could not help but be struck how they view it much in the same way I view "Serendipity" – as a sort of ideology. The two films share much in common in terms of theme and while at first glance it may appear that “Sleepless in Seattle” is only about one person actively searching for the other whereas “Serendipity” is about two people each actively searching for the other, I would argue the opposite. Sam is very much looking for Annie, he just doesn’t know it. Not until he sees her. Then he is.

In his original review the esteemed Roger Ebert admitted to liking the film even if he called it – twice – “contrived.” Contrived? Brother Ebert, that is sooooooooo the word of an un-romantic. What an un-romantic calls contrived, a romantic calls……destiny.


Anonymous said...

I LOVE this movie! I actually included that line you have at the top in my tribute to Nora. I think her films are so timeless as it's so inherently romantic without being banal or contrived [there you have it Mr Ebert!] It also has hilarious scenarios that appeals to guys (I know because my hubby loves this too and he hates rom-coms) without resorting to bathroom humor or anything of the sort. Basically it's just good writing, period. She will be missed.

Nick Prigge said...

That line was just amazing. When I heard it, that's when I couldn't believe I hadn't seen this movie again for so long. Right up my alley. Good stuff.

The Kid In The Front Row said...

Re: You've Got Mail.

You say: "a movie that possessed too many inessential tangents"

What do you mean? How do you define an essential tangent? For me, they're the magic parts of movies -- when the director goes somewhere that isn't entirely integral to the production-line of the movie.

That's why I love Nora Ephron, and Cameron Crowe.

Nick Prigge said...

Off the top of my head, I would say something like the scene set in the grocery store, which I felt was less of a moment putting Hanks & Ryan at odds than just Ephron's way of riffing on a frustration with cash-only aisles. Or those few bits where Dabney Coleman's latest wife comes on to Hanks. Or the scene when they all get stuck in the elevator. That moment does work to drive Hanks & Posey apart but, with all due respect to her, I thought it was Ephron RESORTING to the cliche rather than SUBVERTING it.

Then again, there were other smaller moments I liked quite a bit, particularly in all the little back and forths in their emails. Those were asides but also worked to showcase why they sparkled as internet pals.

I should also say it's been quite awhile since I've seen this one, too. And judging by how much I liked "Seattle", maybe I should revisit it. Maybe I'll see it in a different light.