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Not Great, but it Works as a Feel-Good Modern Fable
on February 29, 2004
Nora Ephron's SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE (1993) is a nice fairy-tale of a movie that takes its primary inspiration from a classic Hollywood film, is written & directed by a chick-flick veteran, stars a pair of actors in what is at least their third on-screen pairing, and somehow comes out smelling as fresh as a newly-picked rose. This is a perfect date film, tailor-made for Valentine's Day. It creates the proper romantic mood for you & yours, while not requiring anyone to think too hard; put it to you this way, you won't miss much during your obligatory necking sessions.
The Hollywood classic is AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER (1957), to which numerous references are made throughout this film. The two stars of that earlier picture are Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. The two stars of this film are, of course, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. The combination of them with chick-flick queen Nora Ephron would lead you to believe that this movie is super-schmaltzy. Although the story unfolds according to the predictable manipulations of Ephron, and contains too many too-good-to-be-believable coincidences, it is ripe with sarcastic humor and even downplays its own hokiness. There's even a cute reference in it that a character makes towards films of this type.
It is very well-acted. As has been mentioned, this film was released in 1993, when Tom Hanks was finding himself as an actor; in fact, his very next film was PHILADELPHIA (also 1993), for which he deservedly won his first Oscar for Best Actor in an extremely complex role. This performance, while not as deep, is still quietly nuanced--and very sympathetic. It rings true, unlike the machinations of the script. Meg Ryan is also in fine form here, really finding her own quiet nuances while avoiding her previous tendencies to play cutsy. Ross Malinger, playing the young-but-wise son of Tom Hanks' character, does very well, even if the script provides him with some pretty unbelievable things to say at times. We also get a fine performance, even if it is essentially one-note, from Bill Pullman; I loved his touching scene with Ryan at the rooftop hotel restaurant late in the film. Also adding to the festivities are Rosie O'Donnell, David Hyde Pierce and Rob Reiner; each contributing his/her own unique brand of comedy. There's even a memorable cameo by Tom Hanks' real-life wife Rita Wilson.
Lastly, I like the way this movie makes good use of its Seattle and New York City locations. SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE may not make you sleepless, but it will entertain you, and maybe even bring out some of the hopeless romantic lurking somewhere in the depths of your heart and soul.