50 First Dates Movie Review
Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore have some kind of remarkable romantic-comedy alchemy together that makes him seem like a genuine catch of a lovable man-boy and makes her flightiness seem cute.
In "The Wedding Singer" they turned one of Hollywood's most insipid clichés (the guy in love must save the apparently blind and stupid girl from marrying a jerk) into a funny little charmer despite its dependence on a "remember when" gimmick of 1980s excess.
They've succeeded again in "50 First Dates," in which Sandler plays a Sea World veterinarian and commitment-phobe who habitually seduces pretty tourists into one-week flings (yeah, right!), and Barrymore stars as the girl who finally captures his heart -- a bright-eyed darling with short term memory loss, so the poor guy has to keep wooing her over and over and over.
At first the movie has trouble finding its footing, limping along on the kind of lowbrow schtick we've come to expect from Sandler (a jet-barfing walrus, Rob Schneider as an obnoxious sidekick) and later going overboard in the degree to which Barrymore's father (Blake Clark) and brother (Sean Austin) try to hide her condition so she can live the same day again and again in blissful ignorance.
But with the couple's meet-cute in a rusty, tin-roofed cafe (absentmindedly playing with her knife, she glints sunshine into his eyes), "Dates" hits its stride with Sandler wracking his brain for new and comical ways to make her fall in love with him day in, day out.
The movie is at its funniest on the days when Sandler strikes out (there aren't enough of these scenes) and at its most affable after he convinces Barrymore's over-protective family to let him try to jog her routine repeatedly in the hopes of making her remember him. While not exactly on the road to recovery, she soon becomes an accessory to her own repeated amorous ensnarement. "I don't want you to strike out tomorrow," she smiles sweetly after one particularly good day together, "so why don't you talk to me about lilies?"
Unlike in most gimmick-driven comedies, first-time writer George Wing and director Peter Segal ("Anger Management") don't ignore their character's outside lives once the plot gets into full swing (Sandler still goes to work most days) and do make an effort to give their characters some real emotional depth. Barrymore has different reactions every day to Sandler and to learning about her condition -- sometimes she's charmed, sometimes she's devastated, and sometimes she's selfless, breaking up with Sandler in the hope that he'll give up on her and get on with his regular life, and his dreams and aspirations.
For the sake of developing an aww-worthy romantic story arc, Segal eventually resorts to the narrative short-hand of montage sequences of their happier times (cue the sunset-silhouetted kisses) and abandons the more amusing bad days all together. Another problem is that it's sometimes hard to not second-guess Sander. Since Barrymore always loses her memory overnight, why doesn't he try keeping her up for 24 hours just to see what happens?
But "50 First Dates" never tries to wiggle out of its memory-loss plot, even when searching for a happy ending, and because it remains true to its characters, the movie overcomes its faults with good humor (after the tactless first act anyway) and genuinely appealing performances (it's certainly the most likable Sandler's ever been).
This may not be a romantic comedy classic, but you don't have to have memory problems to want to see it more than once.