Now, I like a Romantic Comedy as much as the next man. Or maybe more. Maybe less. I guess that depends on the man. If that man would rather be swigging away at Aldi’s own brand alcopiss, hand groping around in the dank darkness of his jogging pants while chortling away at Top Gear. I’m not like him at all. I’m not a fan of Top Gear. If I wanted to watch three pricks get excited in a car park I’d go dogging.
I like Rom-Coms a lot more than THAT guy. I have no idea why I’m standing next to him.
Sleepless in Seattle is the story of widower Sam, Tom Hanks, who gains the alliterative moniker of the title when his son calls into a late night radio show to try and get Daddy back out dating and grabs the attention of Meg Ryan's unhappy engaged journo, Annie. Given my proclivities for all things Rom and Com it seemed a natural choice for a sleepy Sunday afternoon's viewing.
I have really enjoyed writer/director Nora Ephron’s work before, although this is limited to the wonderful When Harry met Sally and the rather fine Julie and Julia. It was a huge hit and I remember it was hard to dodge this Rom-Com juggernaut, but have spent the last 20 years doing just that. So why hadn't I watched this classic when I've recently found time to watch Strippers vs. Werewolves? I don’t think the lack of Strippers or Werewolves put me off, so what was it?
And then I realised...
I already knew the climactic scene in which Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks meet on Valentine's Day atop the Empire State Building in a homage to the Cary Grant/Deborah Kerr classic An Affair to Remember. This isn't always a problem. It didn't stop me watching Titanic and I knew where that was heading (although, I wish to god something had). I've watched many films where I've seen the ending coming because it is either historically known, as in the case of Titanic, or it is stylistically expected, as it is in most romantic comedies or romances. In a romantic movie, be it joyfully comic or ultimately tragic, the final loving embrace is keenly anticipated, nay, expected, the moment that Boy meets Girl or the heroine’s demise is foreseen the moment she unexpectedly coughs into a blood-stained handkerchief.
The end of Sleepless in Seattle is so iconic that I was afraid that the entire film would be robbed of any drama if I knew not only that the star-crossed lovers do get together, but where and when.
I shouldn't have worried.
Sleepless in Seattle bulldozers its way towards this final scene so relentlessly that everything else is left flat and lifeless in its wake. From the moment the mourning Hanks is forced onto national radio by his pushy offspring the race to the top of the tower is on. There is little time for character development or story as troublesome fiancées and girlfriends are dumped or forgotten and thousands of miles traversed to get our two leads staring at each other in that final scene. We are meant to believe this is the Fates forcing them together, but it just looks like convenience on the writer's part. Anything that looks like it might get in the way of that iconic climax is swiftly swept under the rug and covered up quicker than priest's web history in Vatican City.
My main problem with Sleepless in Seattle is that it’s just not romantic. It just keeps telling us about things that are romantic (e.g. the aborted meeting at the top the Empire State Building in An Affair to Remember), but doesn't at any point even attempt to reach those heady heights. The story asks us to accept that Annie's tireless quest to meet her imagined match is quirky and romantic rather than the actions of an obsessive and dangerous stalker. She uses her newspaper's network to track him down, then employs a private eye to photograph him and then travels across the country to peep around corners and hide behind cars for an entire day. That isn't romantic; it is psychotic.
I hate to turn up out of the blue uninvited
But I couldn't stay away, I couldn't fight it.
I had hoped you’d see my face and that you’d be reminded
That for me it isn't over.
It's easy to imagine the scene as Adele stands before her Ex's home howling, "Someone like Yooouuu" as black tears line the ruddy canvas of her face in a portrait of mascara and madness. She holds up a shopping bag filled with her own hair and cries, “I done some drawings of us on our wedding day.” Then grabbing fistfuls of her shorn locks and throwing them into the air like clumps of brown confetti. No wonder your “old friend” looks so shy; he’s trying to quietly usher his wife and kids into the panic room.
Annie isn't the only crazy on show. Sam's son, Johan, is one of the most sadistic spawns of Satan ever to grace the silver screen. He forces his poor grieving Father onto the air to speak to an anonymous radio quack, he also conducts a correspondence with and encourages Mad Annie and runs off alone to New York giving his put-a-upon Pa no choice, but to arrive for the aforementioned date with destiny. Even The Omen's Damien wasn't this controlling, although if he'd made Tom Hanks hang himself at his birthday party he would have saved him the awkward and possibly life-endangering conversation that would surely follow the finale when Sam would turn to Annie ask "Have you been following me?”
Overall I was very disappointed with Sleepless in Seattle. I expected an iconic romantic comedy of note and what I got was a movie about a crazy stalker spurred on by an impish meddler to hunt down a grieving man. Next time I fancy filling my post-roast Sunday with a Rom-Com I’ll re-watch While You were Sleeping, a film about a lonely woman that integrates her way into the family of a comatose man with whom she claims to be engaged. Nothing strange about that.