Judge Patrick Bromley is awake in Albuquerque.
What if someone you never met, someone you never saw, someone you never knew was the only someone for you?
I love horror movies. All kinds. Slashers, zombie movies, splatstick, gory monster movies. I love sleazy exploitation movies and cheap old black and white B-movies. I love action movies—the more violent the better. I am well versed and very much in love with a lot of disreputable genre films.
I also love Sleepless in Seattle. Love it. I am a complicated man.
Nora Ephron's voice dominated the romantic comedy genre for the 10-year period between When Harry Met Sally (which she wrote but did not direct) and You've Got Mail in 1998. Though she made other movies during that period (Mixed Nuts, anyone?), but it is her three major romantic comedies for which she will be remembered. Sandwiched between When Harry Met Sally and You've Got Mail is 1993's Sleepless in Seattle, a sweet, gentle movie that features Ephron's usual flair for funny, literate dialogue and provides a great showcase for its two stars.
Tom Hanks stars as Sam, a recently widowed father of a son, Jonah (Ross Malinger, Sudden Death), who moves them both to Seattle in the hopes of getting a new start. One night, Jonah dials a radio call-in show to talk about his dad's sadness, and Sam (known on the radio show as "Sleepless in Seattle") becomes something of a sensation among women who are moved by the love he still has for his late wife. One of those women is Annie (Meg Ryan, In the Cut), a reporter all the way on the other side of the country in Baltimore, engaged to be married to the ultra-vanilla Walter (Bill Pullman, Lost Highway). Annie finds herself more and more drawn to Sam, a guy who she's never met and who doesn't know she exists. Is it possible to fall in love with someone you don't even know?
In addition to being one-third of Ephron's "romantic comedy" trilogy, it forms the middle chapter of another trilogy, too: the Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan trilogy. The two stars would reunite for Ephron in 1998 for You've Got Mail, perhaps a slightly lesser movie but one I enjoy more if only because the pair actually gets to share a lot of screen time. Coming before Sleepless in Seattle is Joe vs. the Volcano, the best Hanks/Ryan collaboration and a movie I love more than words can say. That leaves Sleepless as somehow the weakest of the three movies they made together; I suppose that it's a testament to the star power and chemistry of both actors that even as the "lesser" of three movies, it remains one of the better romantic comedies of the 1990s. Both are at their most likable here: Ryan dials back some of her adorableness (not easy for '90s Meg Ryan, who is more adorable than a baby bunny sleeping on top of a puppy dressed in people clothes) and finds sadness inside Annie that she never overplays. Hanks' sadness is much more on the surface, because of the plot, but he, too, chooses not to play the most obvious emotion and instead finds a guy who tries to get through his day with sarcasm and honesty. The relationship between Hanks and his son is one of the best things about the movie. They are honest with one another, and Hanks is willing to show both the frustration and joy that comes from being a parent. This was my first viewing of Sleepless in Seattle since having kids, and Ephron and Hanks get a lot of it right.
The movie isn't about a father/son relationship, though (even though it is), but about Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan falling in love. Sold. One, please. My problem with Sleepless in Seattle has always been that it keeps the two stars apart for its entire running time, but that criticism is unfair because it knocks the movie for what it isn't more than for what it is. Even without Hanks and Ryan appearing together in every scene, the movie works; Ryan's scenes with Bill Pullman are great (Pullman is the unsung hero of this movie, funny in every scene) just as Hanks gets great actors to bounce off of: Rob Reiner, Victor Garber, Rita Wilson. Keeping the stars apart is risky but never annoying in this instance, because Ephron gives the characters plenty to do before they finally meet. When they do, the moment is earned. It's as rewarding as the movie hopes it is. Plus, Ephron seeds certain things throughout the film that actually reward multiple viewings; I've seen the movie half a dozen times, and this was the first time I noticed something pretty big. Here's a hint: pay attention to what Meg Ryan is doing the first time she hears the radio show.
Even beneath all the "will they or won't they" stuff, Ephron has more on her mind than just romantic comedy tropes. Sleepless in Seattle is actually a sly critique of romantic comedies in the way that they deal with our inflated expectations of romantic love—we have been sold a bill of goods, Ephron says, and it's affecting our ability to connect to one another. Yes, she essentially undercuts that message with the way she resolves the story ("movie" love wins out after all), but it's nice to see a romantic comedy with a sense of self-awareness and something to say. Even if it didn't land, the reflexivity at play is still an excuse to have a scene in which Tom Hanks and Victor Garber start bawling while recounting the finale of The Dirty Dozen.
Sleepless in Seattle arrives in a limited edition Blu-ray courtesy of Twilight Time, a boutique label that has done their usual fine job with the film. The movie gets the standard 1080p HD upgrade, and while it's never been a flashy film, attention has been paid to doing right by Sven Nykvist's handsome photography. There is a general softness to everything by design, but the transfer handles it well and shows off the naturalistic color palette and location shooting well. The lossless audio track is also solid, always keeping the Ephron sisters' clever dialogue as its centerpiece but carefully weaving in the (often too obvious) musical cues. Like the movie, it's all just very nice.
Twilight Time doesn't typically pack their releases with extras, so the fact that any have been included ought to please fans who at least will be able to get rid of their old DVDs once they upgrade. That's because those previously released bonus features have been ported over to the Blu-ray: there's a commentary with Nora and Delia Ephron (spotty but enjoyable enough), a music video for "When I Fall in Love," a 1993 featurette called "Love in the Movies" and the original theatrical trailer. The only new bonus feature is an isolated score option.
It's actually a little confusing why Twilight Time was given the license for Sleepless in Seattle on Blu-ray, as they only issue 3,000 units of any given title. This seems like a movie that would sell well on the format. For whatever reason, copies will be (relatively) scarce, so don't hesitate to upgrade your DVD if you're as big a fan of the movie as I am. Or you could just wait for TNT to show it another dozen times in the coming months. However you opt to watch it, this is a movie worth revisiting. Good romantic comedies are so hard to get right. This one gets it right.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Twilight Time
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