Tom Hanks is a widowed Chicago architect named Sam, so overcome with grief after the sudden death of a wife he adores that he packs up his son Jonah (Ross Malinger) and moves to Seattle to start a new life.
Jonah – the most precocious child since the kid in The Courtship of Eddie’s Father – is so worried about his Dad’s sleeplessness and depression that he calls a phone-in late-night radio shrink program and gets Sam on the air to two thousand sympathetic listeners.
Sam becomes known and cherished as “Sleepless in Seattle”. Annie (Meg Ryan), a pretty reporter at the Baltimore Sun, hears the show on her car radio while driving to Washington DC on Christmas Eve, and falls in love.
The rest of this charming movie takes a circuitous route to their first meeting (in the final scene) on top of the Empire State Building, but while waiting for the outcome we are treated to exemplary work by two engaging stars and some of the year’s finest dialogue.
Writer Nora Ephron – in her directing debut – uses popular music to emphasise and punch up the action.
When Sam bites the bullet in Seattle and enters dating hell, Roy Rogers sings Back in the Saddle Again. When Annie can’t sleep in Baltimore, Carly Simon sings In the Wee Small Hours.
Rosie O’Donnell is funny as Annie’s buddy, who firmly believes it is possible to fall in love with someone you’ve never met as long as you get frequent flyer miles, Rob Reiner is even funnier as Sam’s buddy who brings the 1940s movie advice up to date:
“Times have changed. First, you gotta be friends . . . then you neck . . . then you have tests and you get to do it with a condom.”
Bill Pullman, as Annie’s fiancé – a hypochondriac allergic to everything – adds another wonderful portrait to his colourful gallery of movie dorks.
Sleepless in Seattle moves too slowly for its own good, and some people grow restless watching Hanks and Ryan spending the whole movie in separate towns.
But go for the premise – “It’s easier to get killed by a terrorist than get married after the age of 40” – and warm to all the parallels to An Affair to Remember (1957) and you end up with a modern fairy tale that will recharge your batteries and rekindle your faith in love and decency in the Nihilistic Nineties.
David Hyde Pierce
Le Clanché du Rand
Dr Marcia Fieldstone