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50 First Dates

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  • Noel Vera
    The flick of laughter and forgetting Noel Vera 50 First Dates is yet another Adam Sandler foray into Male Sensitivity, only this time the director isn t some
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 26, 2004
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      The flick of laughter and forgetting

      Noel Vera

      "50 First Dates" is yet another Adam Sandler foray into Male
      Sensitivity, only this time the director isn't some hotshot young
      filmmaker like Paul Thomas Anderson, trying to get mileage out of
      Sandler's violent-geek persona writ stark, unexplained, and
      unsettling, the way he did in "Punch-Drunk Love." That movie was a
      freak of nature, an unholy cross between Sandler's aggressive-idiot
      style of comedy and Anderson's arthouse sensibility. As usual with
      Anderson, the weakest part of his film was the script: we're asked
      to believe that Sandler's dysfunctional geek would be able to run
      his own business without running it into the ground; worse, we're
      asked to believe that a girl as gorgeous (albeit in an
      unconventional way) as Emily Watson could actually be interested in
      him and not run for her life at the first sign of a freak-out.

      Other than that, zeroing in on Sandler's lovelife (and not on the
      predicaments of half a dozen people as Anderson did in, say, "Boogie
      Nights" or "Magnolia") did help Anderson create at least one
      individual in his career that actually showed signs of character
      development, or at least suggest a complex interior life (even if
      that interior life doesn't make much sense); it helped give Sandler
      more of an edge than he previously had in his dumbed-down, watered-
      down comedies--a more austere, more realistic flavor that,
      paradoxically, made him all the more appealing. The result was
      easily the most complex Sandler comedy ever made, as well as the
      most focused (and accessible) Anderson film yet made.

      After Anderson, I suppose Sandler couldn't just go back to the low-
      jinks of "Little Nicky" (or maybe it was the critical butchering of
      his wretched remake of Frank Capra's "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town" that
      clued him in). So he took a page out of Harold Ramis' metaphysical
      romantic comedy "Groundhog Day" and posited a girl named Lucy
      Whitmore (Drew Barrymore) who has lost her short-term memory; every
      time she goes to sleep she wakes up with all recollection of
      yesterday's events completely wiped out--a permanent tabula rasa, as
      it were.

      Falling for this girl and her predicament is Henry Roth (Sandler), a
      heartless Hawaiian Romeo who has set himself the rule never to date
      island girls; his dozens of liaisons have been with women, mostly
      drop dead gorgeous (plus one man) who eventually had to fly back to
      the mainland, and consequently out of his life (this being Sandler
      we're talking about, the movie instantly qualifies as a fantasy).

      Lucy is different, she makes him work for his pleasure; because she
      forgets the next day, every morning he has to start again at square
      one. This, I suppose, is the official explanation for why he
      perseveres against all odds, though I have a hard time buying it. I
      don't see much of a connection between the island Lothario we see at
      the beginning of the picture and the more considerate lover that
      emerges after their first meeting (it would have been more realistic
      for him to go on an aggressive casual-sex spree every time he runs
      into a blank wall with Lucy). I also don't see much of a point to
      the predicament's resolution (please skip the rest of this paragraph
      if you actually want to bother seeing this movie): so she DOES
      remember him--in her dreams, or in her subconscious--so what? Does
      he need some kind of sign from god that she remembers him? This may
      be medically feasible, for all I know; dramatically, it's a cheat,
      an easy out, a quickie proof of her love (if it's quick and easy,
      it's probably not love; that should be made an axiom in writing
      romantic comedies).

      The movie should be a better film than "Groundhog Day;" it's
      basically the same problem, but with a better premise (a mental
      rather than metaphysical condition: stronger, more realistic--
      only, "Groundhog" holds the far more terrifying possibility that its
      condition has no rational basis for being). The difference here, I
      suppose, is that Ramis is a far less sentimental and far more
      skillful (at least with "Groundhog") storyteller than Peter Segal
      (director of "50 First Dates")--the wheels grind noisily every time
      the movie has to shift gears from gleeful Sandler comedy to soulful
      Sandler romance; also, Sandler is no Bill Murray. Murray
      in "Groundhog Day" has the courage to create a completely
      unredeemable character, a dissolute cynic who absolutely loathes the
      small town he's trapped in. When the trigger is sprung and the jaws
      close fatefully on the protagonist's leg, Sandler immediately rolls
      over and turns into a sweetheart; Murray struggles mightily, and the
      drama comes from the way he struggles, to the point of despair and
      beyond.

      What doesn't wreck the picture, what makes it work (somewhat) and
      gives it (a little) heart, is Barrymore. You might say Barrymore has
      this instant rapport with the camera; she expresses herself,
      directly and simply, straight from the big screen. She's made this
      gift of hers do service in excellent films (Spielberg's "E.T.," Andy
      Tennant's charming "Ever After") and not-so-excellent films
      ("Firestarter," "Poison Ivy"). She makes you care deeply about her
      character; makes you want to weep, copiously, at the fact that all
      the joy and love Roth has made her felt will be forgotten by
      sunrise. She even does the near-impossible with her huge eyes, baby-
      fat cheeks and kissy lips--convince you, from the way she looks with
      absolute and artless adoration, that maybe there's something to
      Roth, something warm, soulful, human, something that could inspire
      the look you see flowing from her eyes; maybe there's real love in
      Roth, if he can make Lucy look at him just that way. Then the camera
      turns to Sandler, and the spell is broken, just like that.

      (First published in Businessworld, March 19, 2004)

      (Comments? Email me at noelbotevera@...)
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