Warning: You'll never be the same after you watch this movie.
It starts with a phone call to a late-night radio host and, suddenly, we are introduced to the ultimate rom-com dream team! Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks have an electrifying chemistry that's almost palpable, and Sleepless in Seattle has all the right ingredients to make the perfect rom-com. Two lonely, star-crossed (or more like country-crossed?) lovers hold out for something special, while an adorable little boy does his best to get them together. Oh, and that scene at the top of the Empire State Building is what turned this movie into an instant classic.
Like most rom-coms, Sleepless in Seattle is as entertaining as it is problematic. Let's take Annie Reed into account first. This beautiful and downright certifiable woman is perhaps the greatest stalker in rom-com history. One night, 8-year-old Jonah stays up way past his bedtime and calls a radio talk-show psychiatrist to assuage his sorrows. Jonah explains how his recently widowed father, Sam, is struggling to cope with his grief. All of this occurs during Christmas time which only amplifies Jonah’s sweet, sentimental nature ⏤ regardless of how weird it is that a little boy is holding an open casting call for his next mommy.
Despite feeling embarrassed, Sam gets on the phone and something about his steady, melancholic voice strikes a chord with Annie. Maybe she likes dudes who speak with an ill-concealed lump in their throat? Whatever the case, the cliches really work in Sam and Annie's favor here. Almost three-thousand miles away, Annie peels an apple perfectly and expresses more emotion towards this faceless stranger in the dark than she ever has towards her unreasonably nice fiancée, Walter.
And, that's it.
Annie flies across the country to spy on Sam and Jonah and follows their every move. But how does she explain all of this to Walter? Well, she makes up some nonsense about a work assignment and poor Walter ⏤ who also happens to be so painfully obliging ⏤ allows Annie to flounder around like a deceptively charming lunatic. Perhaps the movie's biggest mystery is how Annie and Walter ended up together in the first place. After all, Walter comes off as freshly-baked creme brûlée that desperately wants to be Jell-O. But that's the thing: Walter will never be Jell-O.
Being a nice person may have been underrated in 1993, but at least we can all appreciate Walter for the rare, gem of a person that he is. When Walter is dumped in the middle of a Valentine's Day dinner, he's totally cool with it. Maybe he knows he can't light Annie's fire? To be fair, Walter is admittedly pretty basic. The dude doesn't even know what dim sum is!
Walter's nonchalance contributes to the ease with which Annie falls madly in love with Sam without actually having a conversation with him. Clearly, Walter is an easily identifiable plot function. Yet the backdrop of Valentine's Day and meeting at the top of the Empire State Building makes all of Annie's outlandish behavior seem perfectly sane. Making Sam and Annie meet in the last reel feels like a stunt, but it's a stunt that's far more swoon-worthy than anyone in their right mind might have reason to expect.
Sleepless in Seattle is inspired by the 1957 classic An Affair to Remember and both movies render love to be a matter of life and death. Fate is meant to shape the outcome, yet in Sleepless in Seattle an adorably intrusive child serves as fate personified. This rom-com is so perfectly concocted that it manages to stand above the slightly-deluded fantasy it has created and guides the viewer through it all with steadfast precision.
Rather than allowing Sam to wallow in his grief, the narrative is already set in motion from the start. We know that Sam's wife has passed away, and we feel his grief but not to the point that it feels contagious. In fact, we already expect him to find the next love of his life. She's just around the corner, creepily stalking him and Jonah like it's no big deal. It's all a set up, but that doesn't matter. Nora Ephron's phenomenal direction steers us right into the heart of Sam and Annie's romance, and we gobble it down to bits.
By the end, we are okay with the delusions of this fantastical love story. It's beautiful, memorable, and effectively weightless. Within the first twenty-minutes, we are told that Sam and Annie are made for each other, so when they finally unite in the most outrageous and achingly endearing manner, it's oh so satisfying. Ephron even makes Machiavellian use of the swelling soundtrack. It's impossible not to respond tenderly when “Bye-Bye, Blackbird” comes on or when “Over the Rainbow” and “Jingle Bells” ring through and lift the movie up, up, and away.
A woman who hides inside of a broom closet in the middle of the night, hugging a boombox to death, finally meets her one true love on Valentine's Day. Now, isn't that the craziest, most romantic thing you've ever heard? Sleepless in Seattle is a sweeping, chaotic, all-consuming approach to finding your soulmate. Its brimming romanticism is pure magic and thanks to Nora Ephron, we now know what true love is all about: Meeting a hot stranger at the top of the Empire State Building.