February 19, 2004

50 First Dates

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Reading over David Denby’s comment in American Sucker this past week, “We are creatures of the city, we critics. We dip in and out of shadows, seeking enchantment through long periods of disaffection. We slouch and vegetate, waiting for a good movie while cultivating endless memory and odd loyalties,” I realized two things: why I like 50 First Dates and Adam Sandler movies, and why other critics don’t.

I was introduced to Adam Sandler some time back in middle school at one of those big sleepover parties. It was decided we would watch Sandler and everyone quickly took their places huddled around the TV. Before the presentation even began, my friends were already psyching each other up reciting and imitating Sandler. What I had heard of Sandler up until then had not always been favorable, so the skepticism with which I treated the others excitement was understandable. But what was clear to me about Sandler’s appeal even from my first encounter — watching the movie and looking at the faces of friends — was that Sandler is a pleaser, a genuine pleaser. Some maybe upset by such an impression, but that’s not what I had in mind. Sandler is a pleaser, in that he makes it his personal task to consider everyone in each of his movies. In his pursuit, Sandler draws a special affinity for championing the lowly, for which he is an outspoken member, undertaking a personal mission in each of his movies to win respect for himself and all the other lowlies out there. I admire him for benevolence, but it’s a wee bit ambitious and unrealistic. Still, even in the most unusual of situations, Sandler maintains his sincerity, which I always been amazed of, especially when delivering the most asinine of jokes.

Sandler loves the camera. Always personable, Sandler just wants to make people laugh, and he does just that, more often than not at his own expense. This is how he gets his kicks. Like Woody Allen before him, Sandler wears his foibles on his sleeve, without the perverted designs on marrying any twenty-one year old adopted daughter.

The plot is never the point with Sandler. His plots are all variations on the same theme, with Sandler personally invested in each of the stories. The plots run something like this: odd guy — I am tempted to say loser-loner guy — somehow gets beautiful girl that turns out to have idiosyncrasies of her own. Increasingly of late, these lover-boy characters have been climbing the socio-economic ladder, becoming wealthier as Sandler himself continues to make and more and more revenue from these movies. Watching Sandler receive vicarious excitement through acting out his childish dreams can be more fun than it sounds. We can’t actually hope that Sandler speaks for a greater truth — he does not suspend our belief or anything like that — but all the same it is truth that it is distinctly his own.

Are Sandler’s roles particularly demanding? Well, that depends if you take comedy seriously. I would go as far to say, he is one of the most capable actors acting in Hollywood today. While Jim Carrey — another comedian turned dramatic — gets all the press for The Majestic and the forthcoming The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Sandler has shown already in Punch Drunk Love that he can play a dramatic role to perfection. Unsurprisingly, this performance was closer to his usual shtick then the critics were willing to admit.

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, 50 First Dates does not cover any new ground for Sandler or explore any new dimensions of his personality, but somehow it still feels fresh to me. Here, Sandler sticks with a proven formula, recasting Drew Barrymore as his love-interest, reuniting the pair that made Wedding Singer such a success, alongside his typical class of characters including fellow Saturday Night Live cohort Rob Schneider.

The plot we know so well repeats itself once again: Henry Roth (Adam Sandler), a marine biologist, meets the girl of his dreams Lucy Whitmore (Drew Barrymore) only to discover that she suffers from a rare short term memory disorder that every night erases any memory of their “dates.” An uxorious Sandler, with the help of Ula (Rob Schneider), devises innovative ways to keep their relationship afloat. It’s not much. But I still enjoyed myself. Maybe its one of those an odd loyalties we critics can’t stop cultivating.

Archived article by Jason Rotstein