BR: Sleepless in Seattle (1993)

August 26, 2013 | By

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Film: Excellent/ BR Transfer: Excellent/ BR Extras: Excellent

Label: Twilight Time/ Region: All / Released: July 9, 2013

Genre: Comedy

Synopsis: With assistance of his persistent son, a recently widowed father meets his perfect match from across the States.

Special Features: Audio Commentary by Nora Ephron and Delia Ephron / 1993 making-of featurette “Love in the Movies” (13:10) / Music video: “When I Fall in Love” (4:21) / Theatrical trailer / 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment




20 after its theatrical release, Nora Ephron’s Sleepless in Seattle remains a reliable romance with two stars at the peak of their popularity as comedic leads, but it’s also a time capsule of the pop culture references that were once relevant to a specific generation of filmmakers and audiences.

Based on a story by Jeff Arch (Iron Will), the screenplay was further developed by Ephron with David S. Ward (The Sting), and dialogue rewrites by sister Delia Ephron, then a newcomer to film. Add improvised material from Tom Hanks, and what could’ve been a mish-mash of contributions evolved into a coherent and enjoyable piece of seasonal fluff whose plot hinges on each character being influenced by the romance from an old movie – Leo McCarey’s An Affair to Remember (1957), starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, itself a remake of the director’s 1939 classic Love Affair in which two vacationing strangers agree to meet atop the Empire State Building.

The tragic elements of McCarey’s story are retained by the recent widower status of Hanks’ character Sam Baldwin, a father who uproots from his West Coast life to Seattle to force positive change when he senses the silence following his wife’s wake might seethe into a prolonged depression. The fear of steeped sadness is mostly for himself rather than son Jonah (a difficult character convincingly played by Ross Malinger), since it’s the son who’s moved forward and instigates the first act of change: seeking a wife for his father.

It’s the film’s biggest gamble – the child being more mature and emotionally stable than dad – not to mention Sam doesn’t directly interact between destined perfect mate Annie Reed (Meg Ryan); for 99% of the film, it’s two people interacting by mail, photos, or leaving phone messages before the hook-up in New York City. That Ephron pulls it off so well within a fairly meaty running time is extremely impressive, and works in Cary Grant references and clips from the 1957 film, but it’s Hanks and Malinger who make the father-son team believable when the reality of death, mourning, and post-traumatic shock have been largely bulldozed to the margins.

Unlike My Stepmother is an Alien (1988), a dopey comedy with an utterly preposterous level of circumstantial acceptances by father and son, there are a handful of scenes that effectively trace the pair’s progression from saddened to pro-active wife & mother searchers – Hanks has quick flashbacks to wife Maggie (Carey Lowell), and Malinger delivers a realistic speech to Hanks as Jonah fears losing the memory of his mother – and the rituals of adjusting to strangers in the household is played in comedic vignettes that never stray into farce. Ephron maintains strong control over each scene, and perhaps the weakest character is Annie’s allergy-prone fiancée Walter, who nicely backs away with a smile when his beloved tells him their nuptials are not in her immediate future.

Ephron also acknowledges McCarey’s film is a big bowl of manipulative mush, and plays up its gripping effect on women and young girls with romantic fixations, while all males just stare blankly at the TV set. McCarey’s screeching melodrama is what bonds the female characters, and keeps pushing Maggie to gamble on meeting a man she’s never met because of some intangible pheromone that both on their own quantify as “magic.” Taking place just as the Christmas seasons is reaching its green, red, and white peak, Seattle has all the elements that made it a box office success.

Sony’s decision to ignore putting out their own Blu-ray and letting Twilight Time handle the chores could be read as the studio’s bean counters feeling the movie’s specific pop culture references are irrelevant to newer generations, and that it’s best to leave the film’s sale to an older (and aging) demographic to indie labels. Ephron’s decision to heighten the characters’ love for a film that impacted her own generation may have dated the film in Sony’s eyes, as well as the soundtrack which features ‘unusual’ versions of old standards, many from the fifties and sixties – a significant difference from director Rob Reiner having newcomer Harry Connick, Jr. reinterpret classics for the Ephron-penned When Harry Met Sally… (1989) – but Sony may have erred in not grasping Ephron’s own message – that melodrama is indeed eternal, and profitable if done right.

The release of Seattle spawned enough interest in McCarey’s 1957 film that Fox trundled out not only the video of the film, but the original soundtrack album, whose main theme is integrated into Seattle’s final scene in a meeting, hand-clasping union of two needful characters and the repackaging of vintage romance for contemporary audiences.

TT’s nicely transferred BR retains the extras from Sony’s 10th anniversary DVD, including the commentary that’s really a stitching together of occasional thoughts from Nora Ephron, and edited bits from Delia Ephron, seen in the 2003 making-of featurette with Nora, and co-star Ryan. TT’s new extras include liner notes by Julie Kirgo, and is an isolated stereo score track featuring Marc Shaiman’s score (but no songs or non-Shaiman source cues), a feature previously extant on the U.K. Region 2 DVD from 2000. The remaining differences beween the TT BR and Sony’s DVD are text talent files, optional full screen and widescreen versions, and additional subtitles in Chinese, Korean, Thai, and English.

Seattle was very much a crossroads production for many of the major and supporting actors, include some bit players that would move on to their own successes in film & TV, like a pre-Titanic Victor Garber (with big hair), a pre-Frasier David Hyde Pierce, and Rosie O’Donnell in her second film.

Having co-starring in the weird cult film Joe Versus the Volcano (1990), in 1998 Hanks and Ryan would reunite in Ephron’s even more implausible romantic comedy You’ve Got Mail (which is available on Blu-ray), in which the owner of an indie bookstore still falls in love for the magnate who destroyed her livelihood, before each would quickly test out more serious dramatic projects. Ryan still wafted between romantic subjects, whereas Hanks appeared in most important film at that time – the Oscar-winning AIDS drama Philadelphia [M] (1993).



© 2013 Mark R. Hasan


External References:

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