Well played, Nora Ephron. You couldn’t get people in their seats for This is My Life so you employed Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan to yank at the heartstrings so hard wallets fall into the abyss beneath the cinema seat. Sleepless in Seattle lays it on thick in the opening moments. A brief flash of funeral misery and then a despondent Hanks wanders around looking for some solace or lease of life. He will never be happy again. Not unless audiences stick around through the meeting of grieving architect Sam Baldwin (Hanks) and a journalist with no better story to follow than a father losing his wife, Annie Reed (Meg Ryan). What a pairing for romance.
Awful it may be to fall into the obvious trap Ephron sets, it is impossible to avoid. A motherless child at Christmas, a journalist having doubts about her engagement. What a way to set up Seattle as a wonderful place to be. At least the romance within is convincing. Hanks and Ryan make light work of the touching displays Sleepless in Seattle offers. Light is just what this Ephron feature is. It is light not just for the rom-com genre but light on laughs and lighter still on consistency. Hanks and Ryan are the real draws here despite Bill Pullman and Rob Reiner littering the supporting cast. Running gag Walter (Pullman) is allergic to everything. Like most comedies from the 1990s, the introduction of the joke is funnier than the frequent recurrence it relies on.
Beyond the jokes and the laughter is a heartfelt story. A genuine desire to capture grief in a big style American rom-com is attainted by Ephron. An eponymous radio station brings them together, but the time it takes to have Hanks and Ryan together at last is agonising. Ephron manages that tremendously. Love does not come easy to the two characters not just because of distance but because of bad timing, other interests and the explosion of heartfelt admissions directed toward Baldwin. The lead portrayals are good and the supporting performers play up to the necessary hapless losers and strangers that come out of the woodwork in every romantic comedy. Ephron balances the comedy with the heartbreak superbly and it is the cast that she has to thank for that. Sleepless in Seattle may not hold the sharpest script but it has an idyllic charm and a lack of reality to pursuing someone whose only interaction is a brief voice note on a late-night radio station.
Light as a feather and cosy enough to warrant a viewing or two in the quieter nights when you feel alone and unloved, Sleepless in Seattle will surely change your tune. There is a soulmate out there for everyone. Except for you. Not everyone eats a lettuce and tomato sandwich without the bread or whatever the nonsense it was between Annie and Walter that brought them together. Ephron disperses specifics with little care for them, there is no need to care for them. At its core, as long as Ryan and Hanks are looking as handsome and awards-appealing as ever, then Sleepless in Seattle has hit the right notes.