1998's Adam Sandler-Drew Barrymore match-up, "The Wedding Singer,"
was such a simple and pure motion picture—one of the most entertaining,
warmhearted romantic comedies of the last decade or so—that recapturing
the same magic a second time feels like an impossibly high standard
to set. Indeed, "50 First Dates," which contains a completely different
premise but also occasionally steals individual moments and scenes
from that six-year-old modern classi c in an attempt to satisfy fans,
is nowhere near as good as "The Wedding Singer." In comparison, it
comes off as something of a pale imitation, not as impeccable in its
mixture of romance and comedy, not as cleanly cut in its editing and
writing. For reasons unknown, the '80s-heavy pop soundtrack (another
similarity with the aforementioned feature) overflows with inferior,
borderline-distracting cover versions (a difference), none of which
hold a candle to their original recordings.
And yet, on its own and taking into account its flaws, "50 First Dates"
is sweet and sincere and even a little poignant. The plot, one that
could have been nothing more than an easy gimmick, is handled by director
Peter Segal (2003's "Anger Management") with an adept believability.
Best of all, he does not condescend to the audience in a cheap ploy
for a happy ending, but finds one, nonetheless, that is unexpected and rather lovely.
Henry Roth (Adam Sandler) is a commitment-shy veterinarian living
in Hawaii whose life is filled with one night stands with tourists.
His outlook suddenly changes after a chance meeting at a coffee shop
with Lucy Whitmore (Drew Barrymore), a beautiful, young art teacher.
They share an instant bond with one another, but it ultimately ends
before it can begin when Henry goes to meet her the next day and she
has no recollection of ever meeting him. Protective waitress Sue (Amy
Hill) fills him in. One year ago, Lucy was involved in a car accident
that left her with no short term memory—every morning when she wakes
up, she cannot remember the day before, or any other day since the
accident. In an attempt to conceal the truth from Lucy, her loving
father (Blake Clark) and steroids-abusing brother (Sean Astin) allow
her to repeat the same day over and over. At first, Henry sees this
as nothing more than a chance to be creative and try to make her fall
in love with him differently each morning, but as his own love for
Lucy grows he realizes that she deserves to know the truth about her condition.
The hook of "50 First Dates"—that Lucy will never remember Henry for
longer than a 24-hour period—may embellish the details of a real-life
short term memory disorder, but screenwriter George Wing treats it
seriously and without any level of mawkish pity. It is a creative
idea, a sort of reverse "Groundhog Day" where the day always changes
but the person's use of it doesn't. Unfortunately, the hook also hinders
"50 First Dates" in that the relationship between Henry and Lucy never
evolves as smoothly and plausibly as it should because one of the
romantic parties has to start from scratch each day. In effect, "50
First Dates" works better as a love story than it does as a romance.
As a viewer, it is easy to see why Henry would love Lucy so much—she
is a good, real person with zero pretensions and a veritable charm—and
his escalating devotion to her is understandable, if not particularly
within the realms of what his character is developed as being capable
of. On the other hand, the romantic interludes are not quite plentiful
enough to build full momentum. One scene in which Henry serenades
Lucy with a song he wrote called "Forgetful Lucy" might have been
more effective had it not been already done—and better—in "The Wedding Singer."
Where "50 First Dates" proves its worth is in the chemistry between
Adam Sandler (2002's "Punch-Drunk Love") and Drew Barrymore (2003's
"Duplex"), who are one of the most note-perfect romantic couples in
movie history. They had that certain something in "The Wedding Singer"
that made your heart want to sing, and they have it again here. As
Henry, Sandler trades the edgy attitude and anger issues that plague
most of his characters for someone gentler and less outspoken. There
are still token "Sandler Moments," to be sure, but they are less apparent
than usual and work within the confines of the story. As Lucy, Drew
Barrymore is more than up to the challenge of creating a character
who must consistently repeat the same kinds of feelings over and over,
yet make them fresh and emotionally resounding each time. She is a
treat to watch, and handles both her comedic and dramatic scenes with
just the right amount of fun and pathos.
Fine support comes in the form of Blake Clark (2003's "Intolerable
Cruelty") and Sean Astin (2003's "The Lord of the Rings: The Return
of the King"), alternately tender and funny as Lucy's father and brother,
who are forced to watch "The Sixth Sense" night after n ight with
Lucy and pretend they are learning the twist ending for the first
time; Amy Hill (2003's "The Cat in the Hat"), genial as the cafe waitress
who holds a soft spot of Lucy; and the outrageous Lusia Strus (1999's
"Stir of Echoes"), hilarious and memorable as Henry's oddball, androgynous
assistant, Alexa. The weak spot falls on the shoulders of Rob Schneider
(2002's "The Hot Chick"), a usually strong comedic presence who falls
flat as Ula, Henry's pothead friend.
As "50 First Dates" approaches its finale, one is forced to wonder
exactly how director Peter Segal will be able to end it in a truthful
manner without disappointing the core audience. Without giving anything
away, his wise solution to this matter allows the film to rise above
mediocrity and garner a last-min ute depth and beauty. As a whole,
"50 First Dates" is a good movie, and not the great one that "The
Wedding Singer" was. There are rough edges and a few clumsily realized
moments, but then again, not just any film could come close to matching
what "The Wedding Singer" achieved at such an incendiary level. What
"50 First Dates" does achieve is make its viewers hope that there
will be many more future pair-ups with Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore.
What they share together on film is most certainly no flash in the pan.
Copyright © 2004 Dustin Putman