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The safety and security, the warmth and simple pleasures Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan films have brought to millions have made them one of film’s most endearing and enduring on-screen couples. While these movies aren’t measured by their contribution to cinema as an art form, they are treasures just the same, movies for the sake of movies, timeless romantic distractions that continue to bring joy to those just discovering them and to those that have made them part of their own personal history, memories to revisit over and over. Let’s start at the beginning.
Their first is a peculiar but highly entertaining little fable about a man (Hanks) who works in a dull, dead-end job after a traumatic experience as a firefighter left him with a great deal of stress. He suffers from a number of ailments and yet his doctor (played by Robert Stack) says all his symptoms are simply in his head. Ironically though, he is afflicted with a “brain cloud”, a fatal disease that has no symptoms. With six months left to live, he quits his job (epically), asks the cute girl at work (Ryan) for a date, and goes home. He is then hired by an eccentric industrialist to spend his last days on an exotic adventure traveling to a far off tropical island, live like a king, and then jump into a volcano to appease the people of the island who fear an angry god in exchange for a rare mineral.
A fairytale film that upon release didn’t quite catch on with its metaphors and symbolism and quirky attitude, it has since become a huge cult classic and far better understood. Famous for Ryan’s performances, where she plays three different characters, the chemistry between Hanks and Ryan lights up the screen and it’s easy to see straight away why studios would want to capitalize on that intensity. We love this film and while it didn’t exactly ring with audiences, their next pairing sent them into the stratosphere.
When you put two charming and very watchable talents together with one of the sharpest comedy writers of the time together, you’re bound to get magic. That’s what happened with this unique romantic tear-jerker that bravely kept its leads separate for the duration of the story. Ryan plays Annie Reed, a reporter engaged to a very nice and well-meaning man (Bill Pullman) though there are no sparks. She hears on a radio call-in show a young boy named Jonah (Ross Malinger) lamenting how his widower father Sam (Hanks) can’t find love again and becomes intrigued. She impulsively writes him a letter to meet her on top of the Empire Sate Building on Valentine’s Day, mimicking the film An Affair to Remember, and then her friend (and editor) mails it. Meanwhile, Jonah gets hold of the letter and thinks she’s the perfect woman for his dad. He and a friend scheme to fly out and meet her while Annie secretly heads to Seattle to investigate them.
While the movie is a bit contrived and predictable, there’s no denying the charm of the story, even if there are no surprises. Hanks and Ryan, though sharing only an ever-so-brief moment on screen, are somehow connected throughout and like powerful magnets, feel perfect together when Annie and Sam finally meet. Saved by it’s sharply written and often very funny script (by Jeff Arch and Ephron), both Ryan and Hanks are effortlessly fun to watch and create believable, convincing characters. It was box office gold, but it would be five more years until they would cross paths again.
While many were hoping for an update on the romance between Annie and Sam from Sleepless in Seattle, that was not to be when Ryan, Hanks, and Ephron got together again. With the Internet sweeping the world and new technologies getting people together, You’ve Got Mail used this as a backdrop for a romantic comedy. This time, Ryan plays Kathleen Kelly, a independent bookshop owner in a relationship with a career-driven newspaper writer (Greg Kinnear). While alone, she likes to log into her AOL Email account and meet people in chat rooms where she strikes up a relationship with a man known as “NY152”. In this room, where she is identified as “Shopgirl”, it is strictly anonymous, but the two hit if off and each look forward to their chats. Meanwhile, NY152 is actually Joe Fox (Hanks), part of the family that owns the mega bookstore chain Fox Books and is putting up a huge store near Kathleen’s tiny shop. In real life, the two clash, not realizing that they are getting closer while online.
Once again, Ephron’s script and direction make these characters really jump off the screen. A purposefully contrived story, the irrefutable chemistry Hanks and Ryan have is so infectious, it’s hard to find fault with the obvious plot. Another box office hit, this film solidified the pair as one of cinema’s most successful screen teams and had audiences clamored for more. Sadly, it would be 18 years before they would work together again, and not at all like you might expect.
Ryan takes ups the director chair (in her debut) and stars in this World War II period piece based on the 1943 novel The Human Comedy by William Saroyan. She plays recently widowed Mrs. Macauley (Hanks plays Mr. Macauley) and centers on their son Homer, a young man who dreams of being the best and fastest bike messenger in their titular city. He ends up delivering military telegrams from those fighting and dying in the war. Scored by Ryan’s former boyfriend and musical legend John Mellencamp, this small film has only screened at festivals and as of this writing, has no set release date but is expected to be in theaters this year.
While hopefully Ithaca won’t be their last film together, their legacy is secure. Are you a fan of these movies? Would you like to see Hanks and Ryan do more together?