© 2004 Ray Wong
An Adam Sandler movie always feels like a big reunion show. Here, you have his ANGER MANAGEMENT director (Segal), his WEDDING SINGER co-star (Barrymore), his friends and frequent collaborators (Schneider, Aykroyd, et el). And a script with crude humor. It is difficult not to wonder: Have I seen this show before?
Sandler plays Henry Roth, a marine park veterinarian in Hawaii who has a problem with commitment. That is, until he meets Lucy (Barrymore), a local Art teacher, at a diner. It is love and first sight. Soon Henry discovers that Lucy suffers short-term memory loss due to an auto accident – she remembers everything before the accident, but forgets everything else just after one day. For over a year, with the help of her loved ones, she has been reliving the same day over and over again without knowing what actually happened to her. Every morning she would wake up thinking it is her father’s birthday, have breakfast at the diner, read the day’s newspaper (her father had printed hundreds of copies), paint the wall, and watch the same football game and video. And every day, she meets Henry for the very first time.
Henry is determined to make Lucy fall in love with him again (and again), every day, knowing that she would forget about him the next morning. In fact, he is the one falling deeper and deeper in love with Lucy. Soon he convinces her family to let her know of her condition, so that she can start living her new life one day at a time (through journals, paintings and video diaries). Eventually, Lucy realizes that she is holding back Henry just as she is her family, and she decides to end the relationship so that Henry can get on with his life. Of course, we know there is going to be a happy ending – but the twists that get us there are rather sweet and unexpected.
Mercifully, 50 FIRST DATES is a better film than ANGER MANAGERMENT (a sadistic, unfunny mess). All things considered, it is a sweet and delightful romantic comedy with a heart-felt core about unconditional love and sacrifice. However, it is also seriously flawed. Beside the implausible premise, it is a stretch for us to believe that Henry could so effortlessly turn from a commitment-phobic manipulator to an unconditional lover. The writing (by first time screenwriter, Wing) and direction are inconsistent. There are some genuine moments and dialogues. And then there are those crude jokes and gross humor (one involves a walrus and an aid) that are typical of an Adam Sandler movie. I suppose he has to somehow cater to his fan base – mostly adolescent boys who would not be caught dead at a romantic comedy. The result is oftentimes schizophrenic.
Sandler is serviceable as Henry; however, you cannot help but wonder why so many gorgeous women would fall for this guy. Barrymore has a great presence, exuding incredible cuteness and sincerity – even so, we have seen that before. Sandler and Barrymore do succeed in re-creating the chemistry they had in THE WEDDING SINGER. The assortment of quirky characters, however, adds unnecessary comic relief. Schneider, as Ula, once again plays a variation of his gross, dimwitted self. Watching him and Sandler together is like watching two teenage boys giggling about their fart jokes. Lusia Strus’s androgynous Alexa serves no purpose except to be ridiculed and tormented. Aston turns into one of the worst, one-note characterizations as Lucy’s lisping, flexing, bed-wetting moron of a brother Doug. The rest of the cast fare somewhat better, including Amy Hill as a family friend, and Blake Clark as Lucy’s loving father. Animal lovers would get a kick out of the penguin (except one borderline cruel scene), walruses, sea lions and dolphins.
While the film is enjoyable, it is a shame that the writers and cast cannot rise above the sophomoric material to make this a true classic romantic comedy, which it could have been. There is so much potential, yet somehow wasted and lost in the crudeness. So, I am afraid, we will soon forget about this as quickly as we forget what we ate for breakfast.
Stars: Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Rob Schneider, Sean Aston, Dan Aykroyd, Amy Hill
Director: Peter SegalWriter: George Wing
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language, crude sexual humor, violence, drug use
Script – 6
Performance – 7
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 7
Editing – 6
Production – 7
Total – 6.5 out of 10