Twenty-five years ago, on 25th June 1993, Sleepless in Seattle was released into the world. Nora Ephron’s romantic-comedy was nominated for ‘Best Screenplay’ at both the Oscars and the BAFTAs – but how does it manage to turn a highly unbelievable (and honestly stalker-like) storyline into something so lovely?
This film shouldn’t be romantic. It just shouldn’t. A quick reminder of the basic plot should be able to exemplify this: widower Sam’s son Jonah calls up a talk-line on Christmas Eve to declare that his dad ‘needs a new wife’. Sam is then coaxed onto the phone and prompted into discussing the ‘magic’ of his marriage by the radio presenter. The beautiful way in which Sam talks about his wife Maggie impresses thousands of women across the country who write to him in hopes that they can meet him. One of these women is Annie (who, by the way, is already engaged) who starts to wonder if Sam may be her ‘destiny’. Annie practically stalks Joe, travelling to Seattle from Baltimore and, after seeing him leave his house just as she is approaching, following him and watching him play on the beach with his son. I know, right? How is this romantic? But it just is! Meg Ryan’s likability and air of innocence somehow lets her get away with it and (as you’ll know if you’ve ever seen You’ve Got Mail) the pairing of Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks is truly ‘magic’.
The ending, which pays homage to the classic An Affair to Remember, confirms the film’s romantic status. Jonah, who has seen Annie’s letter and decided that she is going to be his ‘new mother’, travels all the way to New York on his own to meet her at the top of the Empire State Building (where she has asked Sam to meet her) on Valentine’s Day. Once Sam realises Jonah has gone he rushes to New York and, after a few mishaps and close-calls, he meets Annie. We see the pair together on screen for approximately thirty seconds, but somehow it’s enough. No words are exchanged, they simply take each other’s hand in silence and walk into the Empire State Building elevator together. Admittedly, this film really relies on the idea of love at first sight – so maybe you need to be an idealist at heart to truly enjoy it.
You may need to be a romantic at heart in order to appreciate the soundtrack, too, which is unabashedly sentimental. But then with songs by the likes of Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, Gene Autry and Jimmy Durante what else could be expected? Jimmy Durante’s ‘Make Someone Happy’ epitomises this film. It sends the message that your life will be brighter if you can brighten up someone else’s.
In truth, the most moving scenes in Sleepless in Seattle actually focus on Sam (and Jonah’s) love for departed Maggie. It’s made obvious that Maggie made both her husband and her son extremely happy and that she therefore lived a full and bright life. Past and future relationships never threaten one another in Sleepless in Seattle: these themes are dealt with so touchingly that if you’re like me you’ll be crying five minutes into the film.
Sleepless in Seattle persists as one of the best romantic-comedies of all time and it’s clear to see why. It’s also quite clear, however, that this is a film that could only have been made in the 90’s. Let’s just be grateful it was!