out of Five
Running time: 98
Essentially Groundhog Day and Memento with the cast of The Wedding Singer, this is a sweet-natured romcom with some good gags and a lovely performance by Drew Barrymore.
Adam Sandler comedies are not the easiest things in the world to love –
mostly they come with a label attached that says “Approach with caution” and the best you can hope for is a shouty bit where Sandler does his “angry” schtick and maybe a couple of inspired gags in amongst the more puerile material.
Some False Notes But Generally Endearing
With The Wedding Singer, however (and, to a certain extent, also in P.T. Anderson’s Punch Drunk Love), Sandler proved that occasionally he can do ‘proper’ romantic comedy and 50 First Dates comes pretty close to being ‘Wedding Singer’-good, even if it does hit a few false notes along the way.
Sandler plays Henry Roth, a Marine Life veterinarian who works at the Sea Life Park in Hawaii. Something of a local Lothario, he conducts a string of love-‘em-and-leave-‘em affairs with tourists because he doesn’t want a long-term relationship to interfere with his goal of sailing to Alaska to study walruses. However, when the maiden voyage of his boat goes disastrously wrong, he winds up at the Hukilau Café, where he meets Lucy Whitmore (Drew Barrymore), a beautiful young art teacher.
Forgetting his vow never to date local women, Henry makes a date to see her the next day; however, when he shows up for their date, Lucy doesn’t seem to know him and thinks he’s some sort of freak. He soon finds out she has a unique neurological condition in which her memory is erased overnight, every night and that her loving family (Blake Clark as her father and Sean Astin as her lisping, steroid-addicted brother) have worked very hard to try and keep things hidden from her.
However, despite initial resistance from her family, Henry decides he wants to keep seeing Lucy, even if it means he has to make her fall in love with him every single day…
50 First Dates has an awful lot going for it. For one thing, the central premise is well thought out, particularly with regard to the various solutions Henry comes up with. For the most part, it also treats its characters with a great deal of love and respect – the devotion shown by Lucy’s friends and family is close to heart-breaking at times and the supporting cast are very good.
Finally, it has an utterly adorable performance by Drew Barrymore – you can easily see why Henry would fall for her the way he does. It also has a handful of truly hilarious gags, the best of which involves Rob Schneider getting beaten up with a baseball bat…
Not As Good As It Could Have Been
Unfortunately, the film isn’t without flaws. For all the love directed towards Lucy’s friends and family, there’s also a vicious, nasty streak of humour that comes at the expense of some of the other supporting characters, most notably Henry’s androgynous Comedy Foreigner co-worker, who receives a faceful of walrus vomit early on. Although the film is relatively light on gross-out humour, these jokes still jar with the overall tone of the film.
Similarly, the transition of Sandler’s character from heartless womaniser to caring, devoted boyfriend is too quick to be convincing. Schneider’s character even points out that Lucy is in fact Henry’s perfect woman, due to not requiring any long-term commitment, but this idea is never really developed. In fact, Sandler himself is fairly weak – he reigns in the trademark Sandlerisms to the point where you realise the film would have been better with someone else in the lead and the more embarrassing ‘comedy’ elements taken out completely.
That said, there’s still a lot to enjoy – there’s even a cameo by Dan
Aykroyd – and for every joke that misfires there’s either a decent joke or a genuinely romantic or heart-warming moment. It’s not quite the film it could have been, but it’s not a disaster either. Worth seeing, even if you’re not a Sandler fan.