50 First Dates

March 25th, 2004 Film, Film Reviews, Xpress

Directed By Peter Segal

Starring Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Sean Astin, Rob Schneider, Dan Aykroyd

It’s been an interesting career arc for Adam Sandler since the days of his first headline roles.

Like former Saturday Night Live luminaries Chevy Chase, Steve Martin, John Belushi, Mike Myers, Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy and Jim Carrey, he’s used the long-running, sketch-based US comedy show as a springboard into a movie career.

Falling into the sort of unchallenging one-joke movies that make up SNL star vehicle nowadays (Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore), he’s had more success and gained more power than his modern contemporaries Rob Schneider, David Spade and Will Ferrell (who looks set to catch up one day soon).

Inevitably, actors known for the sort of outrageous comedy SNL performers specialise in reach the point where they want to show they can do heavyweight drama.

Audiences respond almost unanimously badly to these efforts, purely because when seeing a particular face, they expect to laugh. Think Bill Murray in Razor’s Edge, Jim Carrey in The Majestic, and Steve Martin in the fluffy family comedies he’s made of late (that have none of the cult appeal of The Man With Two Brains or The Lonely Guy).

Sandler’s first foray into something serious was a smart move. Inhabiting a character he was already comfortable with, he let director P T Anderson work the magic around him in last years underground hit Punch Drunk Love.

But they always come back to what they know best, as Jim Carrey did recently in a seemingly desperate move to remind fans he still ‘had it’ with Bruce Almighty. In Sandler’s case, it just seems that movies like 50 First Dates are his first love.

With former collaborator Drew Barrymore (a major producing force in Hollywood thanks to her company Flower Films and the mark it’s left on everything from Charlie’s Angels 2 to Donnie Darko), 50 First Dates is a predictable but fun offering.

Sandler is commitmentophobe and veterinarian Henry, living happily on the lush Hawaiian islands with his theme park animals, his creepy and androgynous Eastern European colleague Alexa and oafish native Hawaiian friend Ula (Schneider).

When he sees Lucy (Barrymore) across a breakfast cafe, he tentatively approaches her, they strike up a conversation together, spend the rest of the day together, and for Henry it’s love.

When he arrives for their prearranged breakfast date the next day, Lucy doesn’t have a clue who he is. The kindly but stern cafe owner takes Henry aside to tell him the horrible truth; following a car accident a year before, Lucy can’t retain short term memories and she does the same thing every day, the people around her maintaining the illusion for her in the belief the shock will send her over the edge.

Unwilling to contribute to what he sees as a mockery of Lucy’s life, Henry blows the lid on the whole scheme, preparing videotapes and messages for her to read and watch every day to remind her who she is and who cares about her. As the tagline says, Imagine having to win over the girl of your dreams’ every friggin’ day.

In the trailer, we’re treated to the high comedy of the situation — Henry putting his cute penguin in the middle of the road so Lucy stops, Henry having the goofy Ula pretend to beat him up in order to get Lucy to come to the rescue (she ends up chasing Ula down the mountain, beating him with a baseball bat), etc.

But director Segal does a good job of finding the heart of the situation, and it’s almost a modern Farrelly brothers comedy; a lot of the obtuse laughs you expect, but with a stronger than usual emotional core (stronger than it could have been for a mainstream romantic comedy).

It’s gets a little sugary at times and it’s thoroughly predictable, but the characters are likeable; Sandler and Barrymore share the same chemistry that made The Wedding Singer as enjoyable as it was.

The few downsides to the film won’t affect your enjoyment of it, but they’re there. One is that while it’s not by any means the same story as Groundhog Day, at times it’ll feel like it. Another is that it’s the Henry/Lucy story all the way. Rather than have one character pop up in the story for the inevitable comic relief, every supporting character (with the exception of Lucy’s father) fights for the honour.

There’s the slimy Alexa, who’s social mores need a bit of westernising, an unrecognisable Rob Schneider (in his only truly funny role ever) as the crass Ula, and Sean Astin, fresh out of hairy hobbit feet to play Lucy’s fitness and steroid obsessed brother Doug.

If Sandler can balance fairy floss like this with work for interesting directors instead of studio rom-com production lines, he’ll be (and stay) a face to watch.


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