50 First Dates

starring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore

4 stars

Hey, a good Adam Sandler movie! Awesome!

Sandler's last big movie, Anger Management, had a lot of goofy comedy spackle plastered all over it in a failed attempt to cover up the fact that the central comedy story wasn't going to give the audience what it wanted to see: ie. Sandler tearing Jack Nicholson's head off.

50 First Dates follows the Sandler spackle pattern in that it's splattered with tons of bizarre quasi-random bits or gag characters and that's where most of the humor comes from. So buckle up for a projectile-vomiting walrus and a cute penguin and an androgynous oversexed Russian dolphin-pool attendant and a grinning cleaver-wielding Hawaii spam cook.

On top of all that we've got Sean Astin puncturing any post-Sam-from-Lord-of-the-Rings preciousness in a pretty funny/humiliating role as Drew Barrymore's lithping, mesh-shirt-wearing, 'roid-taking, over-exercising, chest-muscle jiggling, wet-dream-having  brother. Adding speck to the spackle is Rob Schneider as a beer-bellied, joint-in-ass-crack-storing one-eyed pool bum with five flawless children.

The nice thing about 50 First Dates is that most of this comedy goo is pretty good, ranging from amusing to hilarious. The even nicer thing is that this time it's plastered all over a story that's actually satisfying, a romantic version of Memento.

Sandler's almost the straight man here in his role as a womanizer who falls in love with Drew Barrymore. The trick is, Drew Barrymore has short-term memory loss so she can't remember anything beyond a day. He meets her, they hit it off, and then the next day she has no idea who he is. Hilarity ensues.

But he still likes her, and after a few Groundhog Dayesque run-throughs of the situation, a curious fact emerges: she likes him too. Barring a few screw-ups, every time they meet they connect. There's something there between them that's stronger than memory, bigger than an empty past, and Sandler leaves most of the silliness to his co-stars as he engages in the bittersweet task of trying to follow and build a love so curiously constituted.

Folks who liked Sandler and Barrymore in The Wedding Singer should dig them here. For myself, my favorite Drew Barrymore moment is her on the plane at the end of the Wedding Singer as she gasps, breathless, shock and disbelief filling her face that she's actually hearing Sandler sing their song, that he's actually there on the plane to save her from her loutish fiancé. It's a sweet moment of real acting, and while there's nothing quite that strong in 50 First Dates, she still gives us some very real stuff that gives us pause as she tries to deal with what's happened to her.

As for Sandler, one might wonder why his commitment-shy character would decide to commit to a relationship of such uncommon difficulty and work, but well, he does, we see him do it, and we like him for it. He's the good guy. And while Astin and Schneider do most of the comedy heavy lifting it's satisfying to see those rare moments when Sandler himself kicks out the comedy jams like when he's sailing/crying/wailing "You had to give me the song to remind me of her WHY DID YOU DO THIS TO ME YOU BASTARD???"

The writer's a guy named George Wing, and according to IMDB this is his first movie. Whoever he is, he deserves serious credit for coming up with a sweet, quasi-believable way of approaching this story, in particular by refusing to wimp out and go for the third-act miraculous brain surgery solution. Sandler and Barrymore have to work for their love, and what they get and how they get it turns out to be a lot more real and elegant than I ever would have expected in a movie where a walrus pukes all over a Russian. Seriously.

So 50 First Dates turns out to be a clever, original, well acted love story with a goofy Adam Sandler movie wrapped around it. Not bad at all. Check it out, lovebirds!

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