|SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE (1993)|
David Hyde Pierce
|"Destiny is something we've invented because we can't stand the fact that everything that happens is accidental."|
|Time: 105 mins.|
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Academy Award nominations for Best Song and Best Original Screenplay.
When I first saw this film in the theater, I have to admit that I was suckered in by the romantic nature of it all. Now that I'm older and hopefully wiser, I can't help but see that the basis for this film is ludicrous. No one in their right mind would give up their lives, not to mention a pretty good relationship, to take a chance with someone they heard on a call-in radio show. If perchance you find that behavior wonderful and normal, I have a feeling you've considered airing your problems in the same fashion at least once or twice before. Maybe on Jerry Springer. Yes, on a certain level it's all very lovely, filled with magic and destiny, but once you take the rose-colored glasses off the whole thing leaves a bitter taste in your mouth.
Mainly, because this is just the type of film that perpetuates the crap about "the one" and fate in the first place. Which isn't to say I don't believe in fate, I just don't think it's as random as all that. Besides the great music, the only thing that keeps this movie afloat is Tom Hanks' sweet and honest performance. We all want to find someone who cherishes and respects us like his character does his dead wife. The dialogue is loving and poignant without being overly saccharine. It's the main reason women love this film. I happen to generally like Meg Ryan, but after this latest viewing, I found her character to be more silly and annoying than endearing. She brings nothing new to the table, relying on her sweet face and big blue eyes to make us feel that she deserves something better than the relationship she finds herself in. I'm not sure I agree. She's more cardboard cutout than true woman.
Despite the lack of character development, the real problem with this film is the fact that the leads don't actually speak to each other until the final scene of the movie. Are we glad they got together? Yes, but that's because the whole film is about this payoff. There is no other aspects to the story that matter. What's disconcerting for a romantic comedy is that neither the romance or the comedy happens between the two leads. They are leading separate lives unaware of each other's existance for the entire film. Ryan and Hanks have great chemistry when they're actually onscreen together, but apart only Hanks manages to convey a real personality.
The basic plot if you're unaware has Hanks beginning the film with the death of his wife, a woman he adored, leaving him alone to care for his 8-year-old son Jonah. In order to try to put his wife's memory behind them, Sam and Jonah move from Chicago to Seattle. Things don't get much better, so Jonah calls a national radio talk show telling Dr. Marcia that his dad is sad and needs a new wife. Trapped into opening his heart to the nation, Sam makes women weep and horny when they hear how deeply he loved his wife. Annie (Ryan), an engaged journalist living in Baltimore, is one of them. Her fiance Walter (Pullman) is the perfect man for her, yet there's no magical spark between them. Everything's nice, but nothing's extraordinary. There's something about Sam's voice and how he talked about his past relationship she just can't get out of her head.
Things happen that cause their paths to briefly cross and magic to spark, but Annie pulls back realizing that she could be throwing her life away on a man who's completely wrong for her, when she has someone she genuinely likes already wanting to be with her. Jonah sees the rightness of Annie, but can't get his father to understand that she's the one. He takes the situation into his own hands forcing the two to meet in New York on Valentine's Day on the top of the Empire State Building (an homage to the classic weeper AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER). There's a brief moment when the film maker's try to make you believe that they may not meet after all, but they'd have about as much a chance of making that convincing as trying to make people think the sky isn't blue. Their first meeting is wonderful and romantic and mesmerizing. It's just too bad this feeling doesn't carry through the entire rest of the film.
The fact is, SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE is a great concept, a twist on the regular romantic comedies, where the characters' beginning is really their happily ever after. However, now that I'm older it's just not enough. The film wastes the talents of Hanks and Ryan and dashes our enjoyment by keeping them apart. I happened to really like YOU'VE GOT MAIL, which allowed them to be silly, argumentative and romantic with each other, to have an actual relationship. How a couple gets together usually always involves an interesting story, in this case we live far too long with it before we get to the good stuff. I have to admit that there is something about this film that makes me watch it over and over again, but I'm beginning to resent it for manipulating me into accepting such tripe as worthwhile entertainment.
Yes, the acting is good, the story compelling and some of the situations hysterical, so it's not a total loss. It's just that if you're looking for a great romantic comedy you should check out Meg's best WHEN HARRY MET SALLY. Of course, if you just have to see Hanks and Ryan together, you could do worse.