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Sleepless in Seattle (1993)


When Harry Met Sally… was a minor cultural milestone when it came out in 1989 — it was the first movie in almost a decade to present marriage in a favorable light. (The 1980s were the decade in which feminism gained a chokehold on the values of Hollywood.) It was a major artistic triumph as well as a commercial success, and it woke a sleeping giant: the old-fashioned romantic comedy.

Unfortunately, there have been many, many successors since 1989, and most of them don’t have as much right to exist. Sleepless in Seattle was one of the first and most obvious. It reteamed cute, perky actress Meg Ryan with writer/director Nora Ephron and even included some of the more annoying aspects of When Harry Met Sally… — the plot coincidences, the unappealing friends, etc.

The plot of Sleepless could hardly be more contrived, and the fact that it is plagiarized loosely from the classic An Affair to Remember is not really an excuse. Hanks, a sensitive widower, reluctantly opens his heart about his bereavement on a radio talk show. Ryan’s character hears the show and falls in love with him, and travels cross-country from NYC to Seattle to meet him. Predictably, there are setbacks, but she finally meets him. Predictably, the screenplay has cute moments. And somewhat predictably, the movie was a giant blockbuster hit.

Tom Hanks, who plays the leading man in Sleepless, is somewhat less wussy than Billy Crystal but also not as funny, and he brings his usual quiet gravitas to a role that hardly deserves it. Cary Grant knew that the only way a male actor can come through a romantic comedy with dignity intact is to ham it up. Instead, Hanks seems a little preoccupied and detached, almost as if he wandered away from filming Philadelphia still in character. The chemistry between Hanks and Ryan is adequate, but hardly justified their subsequent pairing in yet another chick flick (the even more inferior You’ve Got Mail).

The romantic-comedy bonanza went on to make Julia Roberts a superstar, and it hasn’t burned out yet. But When Harry Met Sally… is still about the best one.