Sleepless in Seattle

An affair to truly remember.

An affair to truly remember.

(1993) Romance (Tri-Star) Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Rosie O’Donnell, Bill Pullman, Victor Garber, Ross Malinger, Rita Wilson, Carey Lowell, David Hyde Pierce, Barbara Garrick, Frances Conroy, Tom Riis Farrell, Rob Reiner, Gaby Hoffman, Dana Ivey, Calvin Trillin, Michael Badalucco, Kevin O’Morrison, La Clanche du Rand, Tom Tammi, Valerie Wright, Caroline Aaron. Directed by Nora Ephron


Back in the 90s (and who knows, maybe it’s still true) radio call-in shows were big. Many of them provided a kind of social service, therapy for those who couldn’t afford a therapist and didn’t mind thousands of people (and maybe millions in the case of syndicated talk show hosts) listened in on their problems and phobias.

Annie Reed (Ryan) is a reporter for the Baltimore Sun. She doesn’t really believe in romance, although she believes that she doesn’t want to be alone. She’s engaged to Walter (Pullman), a nice enough guy who clearly adores her but she just doesn’t feel inspired, particularly as Walter is allergic to – um, everything. She listens to the Dr. Marcia (Aaron) show late at night and yaks about it with her good friend and editor Becky (O’Donnell) the next day.

Sam Baldwin (Hanks) – not one of the lost Baldwin brothers – is in a deep funk. His wife Maggie (Lowell) succumbed to cancer a year and a half ago but things just aren’t getting any better, not even after moving to Seattle from Chicago with his son Jonah (Malinger). Jonah worries about his dad, who can’t seem to get past his wife’s death and resume living and maybe even find happiness. Sam is skeptical about it – he knew he had found his soulmate from the first touch. “It was magic,” he muses, “You don’t get that lucky twice.”

Jonah is so concerned that he phones in the Dr. Marcia show and calls his dad to the phone. Reluctantly he gets on and tells his story and as Dr. Marcia coaxes his feelings about Maggie out of him, Sam is so eloquent, so heartfelt, so lost that he stimulates the maternal instincts of every woman listening. From then on he gets bags of mail from women proposing marriage or just wanting to meet.

One of the listeners is Annie who is drawn to his story. After watching a rebroadcast of An Affair to Remember she impulsively writes an expressive letter to Sam, proposing that they meet at the top of the Empire State Building on Valentine’s Day. At the urging of Becky (who also mails the letter after Annie chickens out), she flies out to Seattle to ostensibly do a story on the talk radio phenomenon but primarily to find Sam. However, after seeing him with his sister Suzy (Wilson) she gets the mistaken impression that he has a girlfriend and flees back to Baltimore, ready to marry Walter.

In the meantime, Jonah reads Annie’s letter and tries to get his dad, who by now is dating a co-worker (Garrick) that Jonah hates, to make the rendezvous but Sam refuses. Instead, Jonah writes Annie as Sam and tells her that he’ll be there.

More I will not tell you. Either you know what happens so there’s no point in recapping the plot further, or you don’t know and I don’t want to ruin the expert heartstring tugging you’ll undergo. Romantic movies tend to be very much formulaic these days, but this one is certainly not. Yes, it does borrow liberally from classic romances (particularly the aforementioned An Affair to Remember) but it’s smarter than most rom-coms and treats its audience as intelligent people while gently poking fun at how men and women express their emotions.

The interesting thing about this movie is that Hanks and Ryan spend very little screen time together but are often considered to be one of the prime screen couples of the last 20 years – yes, it’s been two decades since this came out. The characters are so compelling thanks in no small part to the sterling performances by Hanks and Ryan that people root for them to be together with unbridled fervor. The chemistry between the two is often discussed when this picture comes up for discussion, but maybe people are channeling their performances from Joe vs. the Volcano which they both previously starred in. They would go on to do one more movie together but for many they are the greatest screen couple since Hepburn and Tracy.

The interesting thing is that Walter, Annie’s fiancée, is really a nice guy whose only fault is that he’s not Tom Hanks. Pullman and O’Donnell both deliver solid supporting performances. The only acting letdown belongs to Malinger and it’s really through no fault of his own; the script (particularly during the last third which focuses more on him) calls on him to do more precocious things and instead of being cute it becomes painfully obnoxious. He’s one of those screen kids who knows better than adults and outwits them, often with the help of his friend Jessica (Hoffman).

This is one of the classic romantic movies. There are women who get misty-eyed at the mere mention of the film. As Valentine’s Day cuddle movies go, you could certainly do much worse. Undoubtedly putting this on the TV and snuggling up together with some microwaved popcorn and a couple of glasses of wine could lead to a memorable evening of your own.

WHY RENT THIS: Terrific performances by Hanks and Ryan. The prototypical multi-hankie modern romance.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The kid can be a bit obnoxious.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s some mild bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The radio call-in listener Desperate in Denver is voiced by Nora Ephron.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: The most recent limited edition Blu-Ray includes a separate score only track as well as a music video.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $227.8M on a $21M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: An Affair to Remember


NEXT: The LEGO Movie


Julie & Julia

Meryl Streep is the consummate actress; she’ll kiss a crab if the part calls for it.

Meryl Streep is the consummate actress; she’ll even kiss a crab!

(Columbia) Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Stanley Tucci, Chris Messina, Linda Emond, Helen Carey, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Jane Lynch, Joan Juliet Buck, Frances Sternhagen, Helen Coxe, Crystal Noelle, George Bartenieff. Directed by Nora Ephron

We all occasionally look for inspiration outside of ourselves. It can come from a person, or a book of poems or a hobby. Sometimes we need something to help us find our own meaning in life.

Julia Child (Streep) is the wife of Paul (Tucci), a career diplomat. In 1949, he gets a plum assignment to the American Embassy in Paris. Her French is limited, but she falls in love with the cuisine of France where there can never be enough butter or cream. She tries to find something to fill her time, taking hat-making lessons but what really inspires her is food, so she enrolls in the prestigious French cooking school Le Cordon Bleu. Although the mistress (Buck) is skeptical of the chances of the only woman in a class full of aspiring chefs, she is a natural and quickly becomes a very skilled chef in her own right.

Julie Powell (Adams) works in a cubicle, dealing with the family of victims of 9-11. She and her husband Eric (Messina) have just moved to a loft in Queens above a pizza parlor; she feels removed from her life. She’d once had ambitions of being a writer but hadn’t been able to finish the novel she wanted to write. Stressed out and miserable, she finds solace in cooking, particularly from the recipes of Julia Child. Her husband suggests she cook all the recipes in Child’s landmark “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” in a single year, a total of 524 recipes in 365 days and then blogging about it. Motivated, she agrees to do it even though initially she wonders if she’s communicating with anybody.

Meanwhile, back in the 50s, Julia has met Simone Beck (Emond) and Louisette Bertholle (Carey) at an embassy party. The two are trying to write a French cookbook for American housewives, without much success. They are having trouble relating to an American audience. They need Julia’s perspective. The three open up a cooking school, although Louisette contributes very little. Beck and Bertholle meet very little enthusiasm from American publishers, and Julia despairs as the project drags on. Only the support of her husband keeps her going.

Julie’s blog doesn’t seem to be betting much attention. The project is becoming more of an obsession, as Julie develops a kinship with the author of the cookbook. She begins to get stressed and when she fails from time to time, she has some spectacular meltdowns. Her single-mindedness has gotten to the point where her normally patient husband has walked out on her after one meltdown too many.

The two stories are told parallel to each other. Ephron weaves them together skillfully as they can be. Part of the problem is that there is a disparity between the performances of the two lead women. Streep is one of the best actresses of her generation, and she’s at the top of her game here. She captures Child’s mannerisms and personality nearly spot-on. Much of the material comes from letters written by Child herself and her husband Paul. They give insight into the couple that no biopic would normally be able to offer.

That’s not to say that Adams’ performance is bad. She’s a fine actress in her own right and she has a role here that is against type – a somewhat neurotic obsessive who has a slight streak of self-indulgence. The problem is that while Powell was an ardent admirer, her story is not nearly as interesting as Child’s. In many ways, Powell is basking in the reflected glow of Child. Adams in many ways relegated to a supporting role to Streep and I suspect she doesn’t mind too much.

Tucci and Messina have thankless tasks as the husbands. The roles of saints are inherently less interesting than those of sinners, and these husbands are definitely saints. Their patience and understanding would do Gandhi proud and while these make excellent traits in real-life husbands, they tend to make on-screen versions look like milksops.

One of the things the movie is successful in doing is portraying the satisfaction of creating a meal from scratch. It is true in our modern American society, meals have become a function more of ease and time as opposed to what they once were, a function of passion and love. We place emphasis on meals that are pre-prepared and easily heated in a microwave oven. We’ve lost the inclination to spend time preparing a meal, even one taken from a recipe. The sense of satisfaction from a well-made meal that is delicious is lost to us.

Vegans may have a difficult time watching this as various meats and fishes are shown in the process of preparation and it isn’t always a pretty picture, particularly a group of lobsters who do not go gently into that good night. French cooking relies heavily on butter and cream, and Julia Child was extremely fond of both. We have become obsessed with healthy eating in this country, which is a bit of a joke. On the one hand, we are perhaps the most obese culture in history, relying on the glories of Big Macs and Whoppers to keep our nation fed. On the other hand, we spend time eating bland, so-called healthy meals that have little soul or passion to them and are meant to be good for us but so very rarely satisfy other needs. Food isn’t merely fuel for the body; it is also something that feeds our souls. Spoken as a man who has battled weight issues his entire life, I might add.

If all you think of food is as a means to keep your body’s engine running then this movie probably doesn’t have a whole lot to say to you. If, on the other hand, food is something to be savored and enjoyed then this is the kind of film you might find inspiration in. Streep’s performance is extraordinary and well-worth seeing on its own merits.

Like any well-cooked meal, Julie & Julia takes time to savor. It’s not a typical summer release in that there are no explosions, no big laughs. Instead, it warms the soul quietly, much in the way a good casserole comforts us. It’s not spectacular, it’s nothing that is going to have fanboys twittering on the internet, but it’s a solid movie about passion – and that’s the spice of life right there.

REASONS TO GO: Once again, Meryl Streep gives an unforgettable performance. You may be inspired to cook a really great meal after seeing this.

REASONS TO STAY: Streep’s performance is so good that she overwhelms the other actors onscreen. Vegans may be put off by the preparing and cooking of meat.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s some blue language and some mild sexual situations but nothing the average teenager wouldn’t see or hear on an ordinary school day.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In order to make the 5’6” Streep approximate the 6’2” Child, camera tricks, sets with lowered counter tops, and shorter actors were employed.

HOME OR THEATER: As much as I like this movie, I think the closer you see it to a kitchen, the better.


TOMORROW: G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra