Sleepless in Seattle

Sleepless in Seattle begins as all good romantic comedies do: with a beloved wife and mother dying for no apparent reason. 

Well, there is a reason: it is because Sam Baldwin (Tom Hanks' character) needs to be established as a solid dude and a desirable partner, and the best way to do that is to show him being a loving husband and father. Therefore the script gives him a wife that he totally adores. However, his wife can't stick around for too long, because you can't start a romantic comedy off with the main character in a stable marriage - the whole point of a movie like this is to show everyone falling in love. So, sorry Mrs. Baldwin, but you gotta go. Hopefully you can enjoy the whole early grave experience.

Flash forward to Christmas Eve a year and a half later. Sam's son Jonah is worried about his dad, who is moping around the house instead of trying to find a replacement for the beloved ball and chain that kicked the bucket two scenes ago. Jonah gets a brilliant idea: he will call a nationally syndicated radio show and ask the hostess for advice on how to get his dad back in the game. Surely Dr. Feldstone, a total stranger who might not actually be a real doctor, knows exactly how to repair Sam's broken heart. After all, she's in the entertainment industry! That means she must understand how to defeat our darkest emotions, right?

The conversation that ensues between Dr. Feldstone and the bereaved Sam hits peak Hanksiness: the bereaved dad gets to be tender (I miss my dead wife!), charming (oh son, why did you have to put me in this awkward situation?) and romantic (why, yes, I am open to remarrying, because my son deserves a mom!) So it's no surprise that Annie Reed - a Baltimore journalist who is listening to their conversation live - immediately falls in love with Sam's disembodied voice.

What is surprising is how batshit crazy Ms. Reed turns out to be. She's never met Sam, has never even been in the same city as him, doesn't even know what he looks like - but she becomes obsessed with him. She convinces her editor that to let her drop the story she's currently working on so she can write a story about Sam instead. (Sidenote: the Baltimore murder rate was out of control at this point, with 596 homicides in 1992 alone. I can't decide if doing an upbeat story about a random lovelorn dad on the opposite side of the country is the worst use of a newspaper's limited funds or the best.) 

Anyway, Annie begins to start snooping into Sam's life. She looks into his police records. She hires a private investigator to take photos of him while he's out eating dinner. She figures out where his address is and then sends him a letter where she mentions that she, too, loves baseball. And at the end of the letter Annie says that she wants to meet Sam on the top of the Empire State Building on Valentine's Day - although she conveniently fails to mention that she will be in New York City at that time with her fiancee. 

 That little kid knows Meg Ryan be trippin'

That little kid knows Meg Ryan be trippin'

When we first meet Annie she seems charming - of course she does, she's played by cute movie star Meg Ryan! But the longer we spend in her company the more she seems like a psychopath. The audience knows that Sam is a good dude - we've been allowed to see into his home life, and we know some of his backstory. Annie, however, is completely on the outside - all she knows is what she heard on the radio, and while his interview was compelling, it wasn't "you should drop everything in your life (including your fiancee) to track this dude down and weasel your way into his life" level compelling.

Which is why Annie's decision to fly out to Seattle so she can spy on Sam in his natural habitat seems less cute and more... insane. In fact, at that point Annie started to remind me of that astronaut who (supposedly) wore space-diapers so she could drive cross country without stopping so she could attack her lover's new girlfriend in an airport parking lot. Her level of devotion is wholly out of proportion to the situation at hand. I can see sending a letter; that's weird, but harmless. But showing up on Sam's doorstep unannounced is stalking pure and simple.

But here's what's crazy: her behavior almost makes sense. Because here's the thing: the audience knows that Sam isn't really Sam, he's actually Tom Hanks - and the fact that he's America's Dad almost justifies her obsession. Hanks is obviously such a charming, kind and cool guy that everyone on the planet Earth wants to hang out with him, so when you see Annie start to stalk him you go "I get that." But then you're like: oh, he's not actually Tom Hanks here. He's a character. And then you go: oh, yeah, this is totally nuts.

It also helps that the story is structured so that a woman is stalking a man and not vice versa. No one would ever want to see a movie where a man heard a radio interview with a single woman and then crossed the country to track her down; that would give off unpleasant Taxi Driver vibes. But if it is a woman lusting after a man she knows is a good, loving father you give it a little more leeway.... till you think of that other Annie, Annie Wilkes from Misery, who fell in love with a man from afar and then broke his ankles so he couldn't run away from her.

Of course, Sleepless in Seattle ends as you would expect it to: Sam and Annie meet at the top of the Empire State Building on Valentine's Day, and (theoretically) head off to have happy lives together - but that's an ending that raises more questions than it answers. How is Annie going to explain how she orchestrated their little meet cute? And is she going to tell Sam about the fiancee she just dumped so she could chase a public radio phantom? And it's never addressed how they are going to deal with the fact that she lives four time zones away. And is she going to seek psychological help for her obsessive tendencies? And what happens if she suddenly gets cancer and dies out of the blue? Is Sam then going to get stalked by someone whom he briefly chatted with on an AOL forum

You know what, I don't need any of these questions answered. Enough Sleepless in Seattle, it's time for a nap in Portland.

Winner: No Contest (I also fell asleep a little)

Sleepless in Seattle on IMDB