Sunday, March 21, 2004
Sombrero Grande experiences 50 First Dates and comes out smiling
Review by Sombrero Grande
If you’ve got a special someone in your life, recall the first time you met. For the sake of this example I’m going to assume that there were sparks right away, you were able to win over him/her and the rest is history. Now—bear with me here—what if you had to do it all over again the next day? Would you still be able to muster up the same charm? Would you still say all the right things? It probably wasn’t effortless to sweep him/her off his/her feet, was it? Or if it was, how do you know that the situation would unfold in exactly the same way on another day?
This is problem facing Henry Roth, played by Adam Sandler in the romantic comedy 50 First Dates. When we first meet Henry he’s a notorious one-night stander. He lives in Hawaii and gives attractive female tourists a romantic week they’ll never forget, then lies about his identity to ensure they won’t be able to find him again. But all that changes once he meets Lucy (Drew Barrymore). Suddenly he finds himself no longer interested in tourist girls because he can’t stop thinking about Lucy. The problem is…Lucy can’t help but stop thinking about Henry.
Ever since Memento made it big as an indie flick everyone had to see, Hollywood’s done what it does best and has found ways to rework what worked for a popular independent film to their own desires (side note: Sombrero Grande predicts we’ll be seeing quite a few big budget Biblical studio films after the holy box office success of The Passion of The Christ). Memento’s mesmerizing story of a man with no short-term memory has surely had a hand in shaping Dory’s character in Finding Nemo and now Lucy in 50 First Dates (side note: there are probably a couple more, but I forgot them—ha ha.) Lucy was involved in a car accident over a year ago in which she lost her ability to create new memories, so every night while she sleeps her mind wipes clean and she starts again the next morning still believing it to be the morning before the accident occurred. She bumps into Henry on one such morning and both of them hit it off swimmingly and agree to meet up again the next day. Of course what Henry doesn’t realize is that the next morning Lucy is back one day behind him. After a rather confusing reunion and then getting “filled in” on Lucy’s situation, Henry decides to try to win over Lucy again…and finds that sparks don’t always fly twice.
Like Henry’s many attempts to appeal to the woman he’s become obsessed with, this movie had its share of successes and failures with me, but overall ended up charming me.
First off, a failure: I really didn’t see any comedic capacity in Henry’s nearly androgynous co-worker Alexa (Lusia Strus). I get that she’s supposed to be funny because she’s gross, but what a surprising number of Hollywood directors need to learn is that there IS a difference between funny-gross and gross-gross. Rob Schneider’s character saying he thinks his shark wound opened up again after falling through the deck of Henry’s boat is funny-gross; Alexa getting covered in walrus vomit is gross-gross. I really could have done without that scene, and without Alexa altogether for that matter. She really added nothing to the story or humor of the movie and I couldn’t wait to see her leave the screen every time she showed up.
Many of the gags in 50 First Dates fall flat, but I suppose that’s not unexpected considering Peter Segal was directing. He seems to have a history of sometimes hitting a joke just right but often missing the mark in his comedies (consider the funniest and lamest moments in Tommy Boy, or check out Mil Peliculas’ review of Anger Management for examples). Still, even with the misses, there were quite a few funny moments and good laughs in 50 First Dates—enough that I feel comfortable recommending it as a “comedy”.
Something I did really like was the chemistry between Sandler and Barrymore. I’d never found either of them more appealing than they were in The Wedding Singer, until now. It’s obvious that the makers of 50 First Dates wanted the audience to recall The Wedding Singer from their choice to pepper the movie with ‘80s tunes (many directly from The Wedding Singer soundtrack) remixed with an Hawaiian style. I’m convinced that Sandler and Barrymore should work together a lot more often. They play wonderfully off of one another and are never more charming than when they work together. Like Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn, Sandler and Barrymore are a duo I’m anxious to see in yet another big screen outing.
Another performance I enjoyed was that of Sean Astin (fresh from saving Middle Earth as Samwise Gamgee in The Return of the King) as Lucy’s funny, lisping, steroid-abusing brother. He and Lucy’s father (played by Sandler movie regular Blake Clark) have taken upon themselves the task of recreating the same day everyday for Lucy so that she doesn’t have to deal with the trauma of her accident. Keeping Lucy from being hurt by the truth becomes their lives, right down to stocking multiple printed copies of that Sunday’s paper and celebrating her father’s birthday over and over again, each time reopening the same present from Lucy (a VHS copy of The Sixth Sense which they then watch and pretend to be surprised by the ending—by the way, if you haven’t seen The Sixth Sense yet, 50 First Dates will spoil the ending for you…just like a certain asshole college professor did for me, but that’s the subject of a whole other run-on sentence).
It was watching this Sisyphus-like daily routine of Lucy’s family as they constantly force themselves to relive the same day that really began to pull me into 50 First Dates. Thanks to clever character-driven story points like this and the charm of the actors, 50 First Dates becomes an above average Sandler vehicle and a great date movie. The smartest elements of the script give the film a Groundhog Day kind of feel that can be quite fun when 50 First Dates doesn’t lower itself to body function “humor”. If you liked The Wedding Singer, this is another mostly-sweet Sandler flick that could be right up your alley.