RETRO WAVE: Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan Search for Romance in SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE

Sleepless in Seattle is a film about movie romance. The film is not interested in portraying realistic relations, expectations, or expressions of love and affection. Instead, it goes for big emotions, sticking to a tried-and-true formula and the star-power of its two lead actors, Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. Problem is, the film doesn’t create much of any real emotional connection to its characters.

The story follows Annie Reed (Meg Ryan), a newspaper writer who becomes infatuated with Sam Baldwin (Tom Hanks) after hearing him talk about his love for his deceased wife on a call-in radio show. Although she’s engaged, Annie has never felt the passionate, instantaneous “spark” of true love. On top of that, aside from every single woman in America sending Sam love letters, both he and his young son live in Seattle, while Annie is across the country in Baltimore. Will the two ever meet?

Many of the movie’s best moments involve small moments between characters that actually feel genuine. Bill Pullman, cast in the thankless role of “the other guy,” delivers a satisfying performance as Walter – Annie’s fiancée – and by the film’s end comes off as a strong, realistically human character with his own emotions and aspirations. Scenes between Sam and his son Jonah (Ross Malinger) in which they talk about sex and dating are just sweet and funny enough without tipping into the overly saccharine.

Though the romantic center of the film focuses of grand moments or gestures (watching fireworks from a chic houseboat, falling in love with someone through the radio, planning a rendezvous at the top of the Empire State building), the core romance never feels emotionally significant. Part of this is simply because the two main characters are apart and don’t meet each other for 90% of the running time, but Annie’s actions also undercut any authentic emotional connection; she often comes across as more of a obsessed stalker than a viable romantic interest, particularly since Sam makes a point of saying how ridiculous all the women interested in him are after merely listening to his radio conversation.

The film tries to borrow emotional resonance from other romantic films as well. 1957’s An Affair to Remember is explicitly referenced so often that it starts to feel as if you’re watching two films at once. In trying to be a film about “movie romance”, Sleepless in Seattle embraces the Hollywood fantasy of “true love”, but instead of creating a romantic fantasy through Hollywood style and craft, it reveals how insipid, fake, and unreasonable those expectations are when placed in the real world.

Twilight Time’s new limited edition Blu-ray of the film will please fans greatly. Picture quality is excellent, showcasing legendary cinematographer Sven Nykvist’s glossy images. Shots featuring the sun setting on the East Coast, or the rain-soaked cobblestone streets of Seattle illuminated by nighttime street lamps give off a soft, assured sense of romantic warmth that the story unfortunately lacks. The special features are imported over from the most recent DVD, with the addition of an isolated score track and liner notes. The featurette “Love in the Movies” has some fun moments in which Hanks and Adam Carolla separately poke fun at the film’s absurdly unrealistic depiction of romance. 

Though it never reaches the level of charm as some of Nora Ephron’s later pictures, Sleepless in Seattle has stuck around in the popular culture. Fans of the film will appreciate the care put into this new Blu-ray.