The Best Movie Critic + Sleepless in Seattle

Sleepless In Seattle

Luke here. For the purpose of this review, let’s just assume that when I say “the 90’s,” I mean the late 80’s and the early 90’s. Also, I'm not a professor in sociology or 90's culture.

Where to even start with Sleepless in Seattle? Now, I have not seen every ‘90’s movie, but I feel safe in saying that Sleepless in Seattle embodies the early ‘90’s ennui better than most movies. It's a movie about how people in the 90's want the life they think they've been promised by the "proven" path their parents took and succeeded with, but that the path isn't for everyone.

There were a hundred different revolutions in the 90’s. After the hangover left following three decades of rebelling, people wanted to get better. There was, of course, the inevitable backlash to this with Denis Leary and Dr. Katz. But in ’93, despite Leary’s protests, people were still testing the waters, drinking the banana and honey milkshake, or eating a seven jalapeƱo sandwich, anything to get rid of that headache, and get back to living, get back to something real. Which is what Sam (Tom Hanks) and Annie (Meg Ryan) are looking for.
The movie starts at a funeral. Sam’s wife dies of cancer suddenly, and in our first introduction to Sam, we find out everyone seems to have the answer for him in little 2x3.5” pieces of paper with some MD’s name on it. Sam finds no solace in these “solutions,” and moves to Seattle. 18 months later in Baltimore, we meet Annie, who has become engaged to Walter (Bill Pullman), a 2x3.5” card in man-form. On the drive to a Christmas party, she overhears Sam, whose son has called into a radio show and conned him into talking to the host. The stage is set, the players introduced, now dance.

(my, isn't he charming?)

Within mere moments of the movie starting, we are introduced to the first, and most glaring, social commentary that doesn’t so much sprinkle the movie, as drench it. When the people in this place called AMERICA see a problem, they diagnose it. Everyone has one. This guy is allergic to bees, this woman is allergic to salmon, that girl is addicted to stupid men, that man is obsessed with diagnosing everyone else. The supporting cast’s lines are almost entirely made up of diagnosis’. The only people not in on it are Sam and Annie … but why? What makes them different?

This gets to the crux of the movie, and gets me to the point more quickly than I had anticipated. Sure there is a lot commentary on social interactions between two types of people, commentary on the technological world taking over and redefining how not only people relate to one another but also how the world works in general, but there is a deeper commentary that I feel more than a little conflicted with. And that is that the American Dream is a sham.

After finishing the Christmas dinner Annie brought her hubbs-to-be to, she and her mother retire to the attic. Annie tries on her grandmother’s wedding dress, and her mother describes the day she met Annie’s father. It is sappy and nostalgic in every way you’ve come to expect, but the look on Annie’s face tells it all: she wants that, and she wants it hard. But (and you know this because the other person on the poster is not Bill Pullman), you know she doesn’t have that.

This movie is a remake of a movie that is shown like 20 on screen, An Affair to Remember. Annie is in love with this movie. Annie longs for the real love that the people on her TV screen have, and for the love described by her mother, before all this 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s BS happened. And when she and her mother look into the mirror, Annie in her Gma’s dress, and her mother says that the night she met her husbbs-to-be it was “well … you know…” … Annie’s face tells it all. There is no “you know.” In that instance, she betrays herself. Her face clicks, resetting, and she straight lies through her teeth. Her mother knows, and she knows her mother knows, so when she looks into the mirror, and we see her straight on, we know she’s lying to herself.

She wants the American Dream, the solid man with a good job, the two story brick house on the east coast, kids coming back from Yale for Thanksgiving … she wants it so bad that she’s willing to buy into every promise that she think has been made to her by the generations of the past, that it’ll all work out, that she is willing to wait it out, and hope that she’ll eventually be happy. And when she asks her friends how their American Marriages are going, they aren’t really the reassurance she needs, as they’re all as unhappy as she knows she’ll be. Despite her small and constant betrayals to herself, she can’t help but reach out and find this engaging man whose voice she heard on the radio one night.

Sam’s story is a little more straight forward, but the moral is the same. He is trying to date again, at his son’s request, and he finds it difficult. He finds the same people who have romanticized the American Dream, the 1950’s ideal of success and prosperity, added with the layer upon layer of guilt caused by the 80’s and the pompousness caused by their being able to become “better people” in the 90’s, and he finds these people to be both confusing and minorly revolting. He surrenders to a woman who is boring and annoying, because he has lost hope that he will find the real person he once had.

Sam views the Neo-American Dream from an outsider’s perspective, and Annie see’s it through the dense fog of denial, and they are both repulsed. The people around them who are buying into it seem foolish, childish, and it’s as though the two of them are just playing along so as not to upset the natural order. But they know in their hearts that the delusions are not for them, they are looking for a real person, and the strain on them is palpable.

The people of the 90’s wanted happiness, same as anyone else, and it was about this time that it was becoming evident that “going to college, meeting someone, getting married, buying a house, having kids, repeat” wasn’t going to work for everyone. This movie is essentially a late bloomer’s Ladies and Gentleman, The Fabulous Stains. The thirysomethings finally rebelling, and taking their life back, breaking free of the mold and doing something that feels right to them, not what the man has told them is right. And you know what, it may be sappy, and full of 90’s lullaby jazz, but I feel like when a movie’s message is to be yourself, and follow your heart, then that’s a movie that has some merit.

Hell, if anything it’s an interesting case study on the early 90’s.


A little history: my grandfather bought a cabin back when people didn’t really know what to do with land in the mountains. My father and I would go up there at least once a year. There was a small town down the road named Woodland Park, which happened to have a movie theater with not one, but two screens. And whatever they got probably ran for weeks. I’d get a choice of one out of the two movies showing, if I wanted one at all. In 1993, one movie was Sleepless in Seattle, and considering the fact that I chose to see this, at age 8, over the other movie says a lot when I say I don’t remember the alternative. But, as fate would have it, I did something stupid, as I was prone to do at this age (…), and I wasn’t allowed to go and see it. And, thus, it has inexplicably haunted me since.

I have avoided seeing it until now because I, honestly, feared the worst: that it would be sappy lovey dovey drivel pumped out by the studio machine to suck saps dry. I’m honestly glad I hadn’t seen it until now, because going into it without context (other than the best trailer remix ever) left me able to not see the story, but see how the story was told, with clearer goggles.

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