Sure, video has changed the way we watch movies. But it’s had an even greater effect on a far more important area of our lives: the way we date.
Renting a tape and taking it home-that ’90s mating dance known as a video date-now competes with the traditional Saturday-night-out-at-the-multiplex mode of social interaction. After all, curling up together on your living-room couch is a far more intimate experience than hustling to save two aisle seats while your partner waits on a long line to overpay for a medium popcorn and two diet sodas. In fact, the entire ritual of the video date—from renting to watching, even to returning the tape—can reveal a whole lot about a couple’s compatibility.
Picking that perfect video to set the mood is key, and as a single woman, I feel it is my duty to point out that Sleepless in Seattle is, quite simply, the best date movie of the year. The wildly sentimental story of a Seattle widower (Tom Hanks) and an otherwise engaged Baltimore newspaper reporter (Meg Ryan) who turns out to be his destiny, Sleepless is just the kind of happily-ever-after tale that delightfully skews our perspective on real-life love.
Cynics beware of this fable: On Christmas Eve, Hanks’ doe-eyed son (Ross Malinger) calls in to a shrink’s radio show and declares that his despondent dad needs a new wife. As fate would have it (which is the point), Ryan, driving to meet the family of her fiance (Bill Pullman), hears the child’s plea and is inexplicably convinced that the geographically undesirable Hanks is The One. Think little white lies, intercepted letters, crossed wires, and a fabulous finish at the top of the Empire State Building—on Valentine’s Day, yet. You get the idea?
Of course, before you can foist Sleepless on your date, video-store etiquette requires that you gamely wander up and down the action-adventure and comedy aisles, politely asking your partner’s preferences, learning more about his quirky character than you may want to know. (”Ten times? You’ve seen Caddyshack 10 times?)
Once you’ve exhausted all other options, idly pluck Sleepless off the new arrivals shelf. Point out that when you saw it in the theater last summer, its combination of he said-she said repartee (director Nora Ephron also wrote that earlier video-date great When Harry Met Sally ) and gently self-mocking melodrama (it deliberately derives from the 1957 star-crossed lovers classic An Affair to Remember, with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr) moved you to laughter and tears.
Now proceed home, planning the dinner menu on the way. There’s something touchingly domestic about cooking pasta together, or coating a roasted free-range chicken with rosemary and thyme. But Sleepless is the kind of urbane romance that might go better with a feast of take-out Chinese food—eaten straight out of the cartons—and a chilled bottle of California chardonnay.
”You don’t want to be in love,” offers Ryan’s wisecracking best friend, (Becky (the wonderfully droll Rosie O’Donnell). ”You want to be in love in a movie.” Don’t we all? That’s why a film like Sleepless, which is blissfully over-the-top, must be watched straight through. Let your answering machine pick up the calls; keep the remote control firmly in your control, forbidding any untimely pauses or impatient fast-forwards. Those will only dilute the aphrodisiac power of scenes like this one: The first time Hanks spies Ryan—then loses her—in the crowd at Seattle’s airport, the look of shock, recognition, and then frustration etched in his vulnerable eyes tells all.
Sure, Sleepless is predictable and, at times, almost cloying in its efforts to bring this too-cute-and-cuddly couple together. (A shot of the breathless Ryan running through New York City traffic is almost identical to Billy Crystal’s climactic run for her in When Harry Met Sally .) But cowriter Ephron’s sharp wit keeps the movie from taking itself too seriously: Much is made of the Newsweek statistic—later proven untrue—that claimed women over 40 are more likely to be murdered by a terrorist than find a husband. ”It feels true,” says O’Donnell.
The truth is, by the end, you can’t help but root for Ryan to make it to the top of the Empire State Building, just in time. ”It’s you,” Hanks says, gazing dreamily into her eyes, as the theme song from An Affair swells in the background. ”It’s me,” Ryan says, gazing back.
The greasy containers and dirty wineglasses can wait. Rewind and return the video in the morning. Let yourself be swept away by that cinematically induced endorphin rush. Isn’t that the point of a video date in the first place?