A long time ago, when I still lived in Paris, France, I remember going to the movies (I did that a lot,) and watching a romantic comedy named Sleepless in Seattle. I only knew where Seattle was because the year before, I had seen another fun flick, Cameron Crowe‘s Singles. Forget Boeing or Microsoft. Singles is what put Seattle on the [United States] map for me.
It would still be a few years until I took my first trip to the Emerald City, where I would end up moving and living for 18 years.
Nora Ephron’s Sleepless in Seattle was released a short year after Singles, and it quickly became a box office darling. Even if they were both considered romantic comedies, these were totally different movies. For me at least, Sleepless did a much better job at selling Seattle than Singles. In fact, Sleepless pulled off an amazing feat: It made one of the soggiest, grayest American cities look irresistible.
I watched Sleepless again last weekend, and I was surprised to notice this Classic – the movie turned 20 this year – has aged pretty well.
Sure, you can tell the story takes place in the early 1990s: I did not spot a single cell phone. Nobody tweets or mentions Facebook. Working women still wear shoulder pads. Three female characters sport short, permed bobs…
Some things have not changed. Several scenes show cramped coach cabins on domestic flights, and one (young) character exclaims: “I’d rather die than eat airplane food!”
Seattle weather is still a sure thing, and another character warns: “It rains nine months a year in Seattle.”
Just so you can follow my ramblings today, how about a quick plot summary?
Widowed father Sam Baldwin, (Tom Hanks) moves from Chicago to Seattle to start a new life with his precocious
8-year old son, Jonah (Ross Malinger.) A few months later, on Christmas eve, Jonah calls a popular radio talk show host to try and help his father find a new wife. Thousands of women across the country hear Sam’s story that night. One of them, Baltimore Sun reporter Annie Reed (Meg Ryan,) falls in love with Sam and risks everything to meet him. After many plot twists and some help from two meddlesome children, Sam and Annie meet at the top of the Empire State Building and… it’s like magic. They fall in love. The end.
|The movie’s iconic last scene:
Annie and Sam meet on the Observation deck of the Empire State Building.
Most people would refer to Sleepless as a “chick-flick,” a love story. And it is. The undeniable chemistry between Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan (two of the most likeable and bankable stars in American cinema,) helped carry the movie, even if they have only a few short scenes together, a gutsy move by writer/director Nora Ephron. But Sleepless is also a touching love story between a father (Hanks,) and his young son (played to perfection by young Ross Malinger.)
|Calling “Dr Marsha” on Christmas Eve…
Sam gets his nickname “Sleepless in Seattle,”
and a devoted female following across the country
Jonah is a cute kid, but he makes his widowed father’s life complicated while trying to help him. During his dad’s first date with the assertive Victoria (Barbara Garrick, pictured above,) he calls a radio talk show host for help and screams: “My father is kissing her on the lips! She’s a hoe! My father has been captured by a hoe!”
Later, once he believes he has found the perfect wife for Sam, he begs his father to fly across the country to go and meet her at the top of the Empire State Building on Valentine’s day. Sam‘s answer, a reference to a popular 1980s thriller, Fatal Attraction :
– “There is no way that we are going on a plane to meet a woman who could be a crazy sick lunatic. Didn’t you see Fatal Attraction? (…) Well, I saw it. It scared the shit out of me. It scared the shit out of every man in America!“
(Sam may have been out of the dating scene for a long time, he is still a smart man. Many cheating husbands still forget the great life lesson in Fatal Attraction: A jilted, unstable mistress is likely to turn into a stalker and cause havoc in your personal life. Consider yourself lucky if all she does is boil your kid’s favorite pet on the kitchen stove!)
Jonah has cute moments too. After flying on his own to New York, he has a taxi drop him off at the Empire State building:
Cab driver: “What are you going to do when you get up there? Spit from the top?“
Jonah: “No, I am going to meet my new mother.”
Sleepless has other interesting male characters. Sam‘s best friend, Jay, is played by director Rob Reiner. In a classic lunch scene at Seattle’s Pike Place Market, Jay gives Sam dating tips. Hilarity ensues:
Sam: What is Tiramisu?
Jay: You’ll find out.
Sam: What is it?
Jay: You’ll see.
Sam: Some woman is going to want me to do it to her, and I won’t know what it is…
Jay: You’ll love it.
Sam: Oh, this is going to be tough…
|Sam and Jay discuss Tiramisu and dating in the 1990s
In Sleepless, women are neurotic, yet relatable.
Supporting roles include Annie‘s (Meg Ryan) best friend, Becky (hilarious Rosie O’Donnell.) Like many women in the story, these two can’t help bawling whenever they watch the iconic An Affair to Remember.
|An Affair to remember (1957)
Cary Grant, Deborah Kerr
|Becky (Rosie O’Donnell,) Annie (Meg Ryan)
Pass the tissue box!
Sam‘s best female friend, Suzy (played by Hanks‘ wife, actress Rita Wilson,) steals the show in a comical scene when she recalls the famous movie’s ending, sobbing.
In the lead female role, Meg Ryan shines as Annie Reed, a Baltimore Sun reporter. Her comedic chops are in full display in some of the movie’s most famous scenes. And we are reminded that once, a long time ago, Meg Ryan was America’s sweetheart. She could act and make us laugh, and for a while at least, did not take herself seriously. As Annie, she gets to say things like: “If a guy who loses his wife is called a widower, why don’t they say he was just ‘widowered’ instead of ‘widowed?’” — and she comes across as cute.
For who could resist these baby blue eyes and pearly whites?
Not Walter, her fiancé (a solid performance by likeable Bill Pullman.)
Walter is described early on as boring and predictable (“He is allergic to everything…“) And Annie is often the only one who understands his jokes (He orders “Dom de Louise” Champagne from a puzzled waiter instead of “Dom Perignon.”) Yet, he proves a class act at the end of the movie, when he lets Annie go. She is absolutely correct when she declares: “Walter, I don’t deserve you.”
|The way they were: Annie and Walter
Yes, once, a long time ago, America (and the world) loved Meg Ryan. It is not difficult to understand why…
But Sleepless in Seattle’s main star is not Tom, or even Meg. It is the Emerald City itself.
How many people decided to move to the Puget Sound area after watching the movie?
How many people dreamed of owning a houseboat on Lake Union like Sam (Hanks?)
Sleepless was released in 1993, and the Seattle real estate market has never been the same. Twenty years later, “Sam and Jonah’s house” is still the shining star of the city’s houseboat community. For a look inside, check this King 5 story.
At the Athenian inn, inside Pike Place Market, a plaque shows where Tom Hanks sat during the iconic lunch scene…
I must confess it was a fun experience for me to watch the movie again, from a local’s perspective.
I recognized several streets and locations such as Alki Beach Park, in West Seattle, where Sam and his son Jonah play in the sand…
I realize now that writer and director Nora Ephron took some liberties while shooting that scene: There is no way a responsible father would take his 8-year old son from Lake Union, through the Ballard Locks, then across choppy Elliott Bay, all the way to Alki Beach in such a tiny dinghy… but in the magical world of movie making, one should not ask too many questions.
I have also found out, while researching this story, that the iconic final scene at the top of the Empire State building was, in fact, shot in Seattle, inside a Magnuson Park hangar, where the former Sand Point Naval Air station used to be.
Love my movie trivia!
To wrap up this story, I will leave you with the best song in the excellent Sleepless movie soundtrack, a Wink and a Smile, by Harry Connick Jr.