An early 90’s classic that shaped the Rom Coms of the present
Sleepless in Seattle is an iconic movie from the early 90’s. I wouldn’t be surprised if most people my age watched the film growing up, in fact, many of my friends reminisced when I told them I was watching it for this blog.
There are several reasons why Sleepless in Seattle is an icon.
Nora Ephron; the writer and director; set out to achieve something different from what movie goers had seen previously in this genre. Unlike other romantic comedies, the two potential lovers share hardly any screen time. Their stories are interlinked but told in parallel.
Although it is a rom com, the characters are relatable. In essence, this story could be about anyone of us, albeit with a bit of Hollywood magic thrown in for good measure. This was a seismic shift in a genre that followed the same tired formula of the pretty damsel saved by the handsome man and them falling madly in love.
The representation of women in film has changed in 27 years.
I hadn’t watched Sleepless in Seattle for many years and although at the time I enjoyed it, watching it as a woman of 2020, it left a different impression. It was ground-breaking in 1993, however it came across as dated, and not just because of the 90’s fashion. Meg Ryan’s character Annie was skittish, unsure of herself and lacking in substance. It’s a shame really, it would have been nice to see her with a bit of sass, but that’s likely not what 1993 viewers would have wanted. What is most concerning with her character is that every decision she made [in the film] was centred on men and love. At one point she flew across the country to meet Sam; Tom Hanks’ character; but instead ended up watching him from afar play on a beach with his son. Maybe in 1993, this was considered romantic but not in 2020. There is nothing wrong with pursuing love, but to devote your every decision to that is questionable.
There was one moment in the film that was particularly cringe worthy. Rita Wilson’s character Suzy was describing the ending to an Affair to Remember; a film referenced multiple times in Sleepless; and was ridiculed by Sam, Jonah and her husband Greg; for getting emotional and crying. As if it was something that men never do. They rolled their eyes and had a looked alarmed as she started crying. It was demeaning and deprecating. I know most movie goers would have laughed at this scene, including me, but in 2020 I have to believe we have moved on from this style of humour.
Thankfully, there was a positive female relationship in Sleepless which showcased the strength of the sisterhood. Annie and her best friend Becky; played brilliantly by Rosie O’Donnell; are as close as you can get. Their relationship was wonderful, you could see how much they supported each other no matter how extreme their endeavours were. Instead of being pitted against each other, they were each other’s rocks. Although most of their dialogue centred around men, they supported each other. It also made for some great scenes. The scene where they are watching the ending of Affair to Remember together on the couch is reminiscent of moments I have shared with my girlfriends. It was a nice touch.
The role of fate in our lives is explored.
Destiny as a theme is carried throughout the film and referenced several times by Meg Ryan’s character Annie. There are a number of moments when Sam and Annie are so close to meeting up but miss each other. These moments help to build the suspense and hope in the audience. We want them to meet, we want their destiny to be fulfilled.
This storyline reaches its climax at the end of the film. It is so quintessentially over the top but just what a romantic comedy needs, even one steeped in reality. However, the older I get, the more cynical I become, and I struggled with it. The scene starts with Annie having dinner with her fiancé Walter. She tells him she is leaving him and is meeting a man at the top of the Empire State Building. He accepts this and she leaves. Let’s be honest, there is no way a guy is going to take it that well when you tell him you are leaving him for someone else you’ve never met (especially after he has bought you a Tiffany’s engagement ring and champagne).
Even if I don’t agree with it now, Nora Ephron finished the film the way the viewer would have wanted, with Sam and Annie finally meeting against the backdrop of New York.
The real love story in Sleepless
Now obviously, there must be a happy ending and Sleepless in Seattle certainly has that. Sam’s eyes meet the Annie’s and that’s it, they are in love…and they live happily ever after of course.
I was more interested in the relationship between Sam and his son Jonah. At the beginning of the movie they lose a mother and wife, and the two of them have to muddle their way through their new life together.
They were two people dealing with shared grief in their own way. It was really quite lovely to see their connection and bond on screen. In fact, Jonah is the catalyst for the romantic adventure Sam undertakes in the film.
They had some fantastic scenes together and I felt privileged to see this relationship on screen. Nora Ephron’s direction made it feel like I was personally invited into their home. I don’t recall many films from the 90’s that had such positive father and son relationships. As a father, Sam was engaged, emotionally intelligent and connected to his child. This is the great love story in this film.
Nora Ephron’s legacy lives on
Sleepless in Seattle is one of many iconic films written or directed by Nora Ephron. Most notably When Harry Met Sally, You’ve Got Mail and Julie & Julia. Nora was a trailblazer of the industry and her legacy will live on for many years to come. Her work inspired the people around her and she helped pave the way for many women making a name for themselves in Hollywood now. She wasn’t afraid to smash the glass ceiling with a hammer and was unashamedly proud of her work.
There is no doubt Nora Ephron wrote a good screenplay, filled the movie with top actors and directed each scene beautifully. It would not have been easy to film two separate stories and keep them flowing as well as she did. I am glad I watched it again because of the great one-liners but also to watch a wonderful relationship between a father and son. On reflection, I think that’s the beauty of what Nora created, a rom com with depth, featuring several love stories. I need to park my cynicism at the door and appreciate the film for what it meant in 1993, not where we are as a society now.
The Key players
Main Cast – Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Ross Malinger, Rita Wilson, Victor Garber, Bill Pullman, Rosie O’Donnell
Director – Nora Ephron
Writer – Jeff Arch, Nora Ephron and David S. Ward
Producers – Jane Bartelme, Patrick Crowley, Delia Ephron, Gary Foster, Lynda Obst, James W. Skotchdopole
Full Cast & Crew
The story behind the story:
Sleepless in Seattle at 25
How Sleepless in Seattle and Nora Ephron changed romantic comedies
The cast of Sleepless in Seattle: Then and Now
11 surprising facts
Rosie O’Donnell explains why it hurts to watch ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ 25 years later