Revisiting Classics: Sleepless in Seattle

Revisiting Classics: Sleepless in Seattle

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…


Barbara Garrick as Victoria

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:

Jay: Tiramisu…
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.

A bientôt.








21 Responses to Revisiting Classics: Sleepless in Seattle

  1. You’re absolutely right, the movie is aging gracefully. Nora Ephron’s dialogues are hilarious and the cast with Hanks, Ryan and O’Donnell couldn’t be a better match. But the scene with Rita Wilson is absolutely brilliant, the best.

  2. I’m also a fan of this film. Just looking at the clothes and hair is enough to make me smile with nostalgia. Actually, I wore my hair just like Meg Ryan with a long, loose braid, except that my hair was red and much longer. Still, that whole romantic, long skirt, ballet flats thing was my style then. Things change.

    Did you know that “Sleepless in Seattle” was, in fact, the third version of this story on film? The second was, as you know, “An Affair to Remember” with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. The original, from 1939, starred your countryman, Charles Boyer (he was fabulous!!! Those eyes!! That voice!!!), and Irene Dunne. They were absolutely electric together. If I had to choose between the three, I think I would have to go with the original 1939 version.

    • I can just picture you with the long, beautiful red hair, M-T 🙂

      I am glad you reminded us of the older two versions of the movie. I never saw the 1939 film and based on your review, I need to change that quickly!

      Bisous…

  3. What a lovely review. I too watched it again recently & it did “age well.” I wonder what your take is on French Kiss with Ryan… I don’t know if I’ve left you a note before, but as a student of French & Francophile, I love your blog posts, the subjects, the writing…the depth. Thank you.

    • Merci de votre visite. Thank you for stopping by. So happy you mentioned French Kiss. This used to be a big favorite of mine. I mentioned it in a post I wrote a long time ago about French waiters 🙂

      Thank you for the support and kind comments. Come back soon!

  4. I love this movie, and, you know, I’ve always wondered if Meg Ryan was pregnant in the beginning part of the movie when she tries on the wedding dress. Do you know? Strange thing to wonder about, isn’t it? I remember taking my British husband down to Seattle for the first time and pointing out places seen in the movie and he was at once appalled for breaking the romance and intrigued. Men?!? 🙂

  5. LE film anti coup de cafard par excellence! Celui qui devrait être remboursé par la securité sociale!Je ne sais même plus combien de fois je l’ai vu, je connais les dialogues par coeur; C’est le parfait conte de fées moderne!
    Rentrée de Londres, ravie et frustrée à la fois comme toujours. Pas été au studio (m’en doutais..) mais fait plein de choses sympas.
    ça va toi?…
    Gros bisous !!

  6. I read this post last week and forgot to comment-are you ready for this I never saw this movie…can you believe that ….reading this post I am somewhat curious-in the Netflix queue it goes….have a good week v!

  7. The joy and charm of a place is not to be underestimated. Living in a location where there is beauty all around is simply good for the soul, i was left wondering how many films give a starring role to a city. In fact, if there was an Oscar for best leading city each year then which would win?

    • Bienvenue Kate. Great question you are asking! I would give an Oscar to New York city and Paris. These two are definitely leading cities, and not just on film! As for the rest, I’d have to give this topic more thought. In fact, merci beaucoup, as this could inspire a new blog post soon 🙂

    • Well Bonjour, stranger! So good to hear from you. I have not visited your blog for a while, and I apologize. I will stop by this weekend. I certainly hope you will spend part of said weekend watching Meg and the rest of the cast in “Sleepless…” 🙂

  8. Comment se fait-il que j’aie raté ce billet?????? Véro! COUCOU! Il y a quelque qui ne va pas avec le truc qui me previent qu’il y a de nouveaux billets….PARDON! Je me rapelle ce film – c’est mignon. ET MERCI d’être venue hier me voir! Que tes jours d’automne soient féeriques ma chère. Oh, et j’adore enseigner aux ados au lycée! BISOUS, Anita

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