Movie Review

Sleepless in Seattle

What if someone you never met, someone you never saw, someone you never knew was the only someone for you?
Sleepless in Seattle Movie Poster

US Release Date: 06-25-1993

Directed by: Nora Ephron


  • Tom Hanks
  • Sam Baldwin
  • Meg Ryan
  • Annie Reed
  • Bill Pullman
  • Walter
  • Rosie O'Donnell
  • Becky
  • Rob Reiner
  • Jay
  • Rita Wilson
  • Suzy
  • Gaby Hoffmann
  • Jessica
  • Carey Lowell
  • Maggie Baldwin
  • Ross Malinger
  • Jonah Baldwin
  • Victor Garber
  • Greg
  • David Hyde Pierce
  • Dennis Reed
  • Barbara Garrick
  • Victoria
  • Frances Conroy
  • Irene Reed
Average Stars:
Reviewed on: July 27th, 2009
Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan on top of the Empire State Building in Sleepless in Seattle.

Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan on top of the Empire State Building in Sleepless in Seattle.

Sleepless in Seattle has an old fashioned feel to it and more so than the 16 years since its release can account for. The characters and the script spend a lot of time referencing and watching 1957's An Affair to Remember and it does seem as though writer/director Nora Ephron was trying to channel one of those unabashedly romantic movies from the 1950s. And although she's clearly created a chick flick here, it is an entertaining one, thanks in large part to its two leads.

Hanks plays Sam Baldwin, a man newly widowed as the story begins. He moves with his son Jonah to Seattle to start a new life. On Christmas Eve, 18 months later, Jonah calls into a nationally broadcast radio talk-show where he asks the host to help his dad who's still depressed. Sam ends up on the phone where he pours out his feelings for his departed wife. Meanwhile, across the country on that same Christmas Eve, Annie (Ryan) hears Sam on the show and feels strangely connected to him despite already being engaged herself.

Ryan and Hanks only spend about 2 minutes of screen-time together in the whole movie. Annie does some investigation of Sam and even travels to Seattle where they glimpse each other and almost speak, but fate contrives to keep them apart. Sam, in just the few minutes he sees Annie also feels the same attraction to her that she feels toward him. I told you it was a chick flick.

What really makes this movie work is that Hanks and Ryan are just so good. Hanks has that quirky comic charm of his. He doesn't have leading man looks, but he has great comic timing and is just one of those people that it is almost impossible to dislike. He also shares good father/son chemistry with Ross Malinger. And in the 1990s Meg Ryan was the queen of romantic comedies and she doesn't disappoint here. She has a charm and beauty that somehow still seems attainable. Some actresses are goddesses whom are only there to be worshiped from afar, but Ryan seems like someone you might actually meet. You never will of course, but it seems like you could.

Providing some comic relief is a fairly well-known supporting cast. Bill Pullman plays Annie's allergy-ridden, but amazingly understanding fiancee. Hanks real-life wife Rita Wilson plays Sam's sister. Rob Reiner plays a friend of Sam's and a pre-coming out of the closet Rosie O Donnel plays a friend of Annie's. David Hyde Pierce, who would again have a connection to Seattle in Frasier, also has a small part as Annie's brother.

Although she writes mainly chick flicks, Ephron does do a fairly good job of writing for both men and women. In When Harry Met Sally (a far better film), this one and You've Got Mail, all of which she wrote, she gives fairly equal time to the male and female characters. She doesn't always get the men as right as she does the women, but it's nice to see her try.

The tone of this movie is unapologetically romantic, from its falling in love with a voice on the radio beginning to its on the top of the Empire State Building finale. It's not a perfect movie, but it is an entertaining one with two talented leads in the prime of their career.

Reviewed on: July 11th, 2013
Rosie O'Donnell and Meg Ryan in Sleepless in Seattle

Rosie O'Donnell and Meg Ryan in Sleepless in Seattle

Sleepless in Seattle lightly explores the theory of whether finding your true love is destiny, a coincidence, sheer luck or a lot of work. Meg Ryan says at one point that, “Destiny is something we've invented because we can't stand the fact that everything that happens is accidental.” David Hyde Pearce offers, “What we think of as fate is just two neurosis knowing that they are a perfect match.” The entire film is filled with quotes on the subject.

Was it fate or chance that Annie caught the radio program that Jonah called so his father Sam could spill his romantic guts for her to hear? Annie is engaged to Walter, a man she has feelings for but comes to understand that she is settling with him. Sam may be her destiny but she must make the decision to leave Walter and pursue Sam. Thus, even fate takes some effort, which by definition makes it not fate.

Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan make a great on screen couple. If not for their charm, I doubt this film would be at all remembered. In 1993 you could not find two more likable movie stars.  

As Scott wrote, and this film admits, Sleepless in Seattle is a chick flick. It goes overboard to explore the romantic notions that some Hollywood films perpetuate. The Cary Grant/Deborah Kerr classic An Affair to Remember (1957) plays a large part with its plot explained, lines quoted and clips shown. It even steals the ending from it.

Although we like Sam and Annie, as well as most of the supporting cast, the plot too often seems to meander around as we wait for the two long distance dreamers to finally meet. All we have to anticipate is when the meeting will finally occur. The ending is never in doubt.

One of my favorite aspects of this film is the soundtrack. It is bookended by two songs, “As Time Goes By” and “Make Someone Happy,” performed by Jimmy Durante of all people. I love Carly Simon’s elegant performance of “The Wee Small Hours of the Morning.” It is beautifully mood setting. Gene Autry’s “Back in the Saddle” is brilliantly used as a punch line. Harry Connick Jr. became famous for doing the soundtrack to When Harry Met Sally (1989) and here contributes “A Wink and a Smile.”

Reviewed on: July 30th, 2013
Rob Reiner and Tom Hanks in Sleepless in Seattle.

Rob Reiner and Tom Hanks in Sleepless in Seattle.

Sleepless in Seattle is a romantic comedy where the two leads never even kiss. In fact, they barely meet face to face at all. It is all about the yearning. She pines for him but he doesn't know she exists. He sees her at the airport and is immediately smitten but she doesn't know it's him. The script has them dancing around each other and with other partners. It's one long slow tease with the pay-off coming at the top of the Empire State Building. Am I the only one that thinks the ending is a let down? For all the build up it lacks romance. I mean how romantic can it get with an 8-year-old boy tagging along?

Nora Ephron was a talented writer and director. For the most part this movie works. At least until Annie flies to Seattle. I found the scene where they almost speak frustrating when I first saw this movie 20 years ago and I still found it frustrating today. Would she really have flown all the way across the country in search of this man only to give up once she finally meets him face to face? I don't think so. It seems as contrived as the plot-device of Deborah Kerr getting in that car accident on her way to the Empire State Building to meet Cary Grant in An Affair to Remember. I guess Scott is right that Ephron was going for that old-fashioned romantic movie feeling. Hell, Rosie O'Donnell's character even tells Meg Ryan's that, “You don't want to be in love. You want to be in love in a movie.”

I agree with my brothers that the cast is good. Hanks and Ryan make a great couple (even if we almost never see them together) and the supporting players add to the fun. The scene where Rita Wilson cries while describing An Affair to Remember is one of the best. Tom Hanks and Victor Garber improvised their response where they pretend to cry over The Dirty Dozen. Barbara Garrick provides some fun as Victoria, the woman Sam dates. Her overdone laughter is hilarious. One joke that probably wouldn't be used in a movie post-9/11 is when a coworker of Annie's quotes the following statistic. “It's easier to be killed by a terrorist than it is to find a husband over the age of 40!”

As Eric said, Sleepless in Seattle raises the question of just where, when and how we find love. Is it the result of fate, fortuitous happenstance, or does it take hard work and conscious decision-making? The answer according to this movie seems to be all of the above (and having a precocious child around to nudge things along doesn't hurt). Sleepless in Seattle contains some classic moments but overall it's a bit of a disappointment.

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