50 First Dates


Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews Laura Clifford 
50 First Dates
Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews Robin Clifford 

Marine life vet Henry Roth (Adam Sandler) enjoys his non-committal lifestyle of single dates with the tourists visiting his Hawaiian home state.  Henry's a goner, though, when he sets eyes on high school art teacher Lucy Whitmore (Drew Barrymore) one morning in a restaurant, but Lucy has a rare condition that causes her to lose her memory overnight, every night.  In order to pursue the woman of his dreams, Henry is ironically forced to continue his pattern, this time with the same woman, in "50 First Dates."

Laura:
Lightning strikes twice as Adam Sandler reteams with his well-matched "Wedding Singer" costar Drew Barrymore for the second most delightful outing in the Sandler oeuvre.  Although Sandler has dispensed with his usual writing partner Tim Herlihy for newcomer George Wing, the Sandler troupe remains intact with regulars Blake Clark, Allen Covert and the never funnier Rob Schneider all making welcome appearances.  Director Peter Segal joins the Sandler talent pool returning after last year's "Anger Management" gig, allowing far fewer flat moments this time around.

When Henry suffers a sailing mishap testing the Sea Serpent for his long-dreamed journey to Alaska for walrus study, he's forced to dock on an unfamiliar side of the island.  Cooling his heals in a local restaurant, Henry is charmed by a beautiful blonde constructing a working teepee out of breakfast waffles.  He agrees to meet her the next day and is shocked when his familiar ribbing is met with Lucy's outrage.  Waitress Sue (Amy Hill, "Cheaper by the Dozen") clues him in - Lucy has lost her short term memory every night since a car accident the previous year. Henry cannot get the girl out of his mind, though, and when the cook, Nick (Pomaika'i Brown), bets him $20 that he can't interest Lucy again, Henry's determined to try each day until he wins. His motives are misinterpreted by Lucy's dad Marlin (Clark) and her bodybuilding brother Doug (Sean Astin, "The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King") who tell Henry to stay away, but when Marlin notices that his daughter sings on the days she's seen Henry he relents and includes him in the familial group who care for his daughter.

Wing's story idea jumps off from "Groundhog Day" territory and goes farther, fleshing out the love and devotion involved in both recreating the same day, Marlin's birthday, for Lucy over and over and finding comforting ways to tell her what happened so that she can still enjoy life. The heart is real, and yet humor is always close at hand, particularly in Henry's video wakeup tape (including a recreation of a first date with buddy Ula (Schneider) standing in for Lucy!).  Henry's job as a marine vet allows for some beautifully integrated animal silliness (Willy the Penguin deserves an agent) and the Hawaiian location is milked for not only beautiful vistas, but quirks like the natives' fondness for Spam.  As usual with a Sandler production, music is integral and the soundtrack pays homage to the prior Barrymore outing with reappearances of Thompson Twin's "Hold Me Now" and Spandau Ballet's "True" as well as other '80's tunes from The Cure and Echo and the Bunnymen.  Sandler teamed with Herlihy and Covert for his own wonderful ditty, "Forgetful Lucy."  Hawaii gets its due with incorporated island sounds and the Beach Boys' "Wouldn't It Be Nice."

Sandler is back in nice guy mode, with allowances for some humorous takes on his prior bad behavior.  His penchant for potty jokes is kept to a rare minimum and most of his innuendos deliver a laugh.  Barrymore is luminous and charming, stricken when faced with her condition and rapturous with the people she loves.  Schneider is simply hysterical as a weed-toking native who believes that 'Sharks are like dogs - they only bite if you touch their private parts,' a sentiment delivered as he's stitched up from a shark bite.  Physically, Schneider struts about unaware that his paunch and spindly legs no longer look A-one in a speedo.  Blake Clark projects warmth tinged with resignation as Lucy's dad while Sean Astin gets loopy as her lisping, steroid addicted brother who likes to make his muscles dance.  The borderline Sandler character thrown into the mix for some questionable humor is represented this time by Lusia Strus ("Soul Survivors") as Alexa, a Russian of indeterminate sex who assists Henry at the marine world and forms a bond with Doug.  Dan Aykroyd, in heavyweight casting in the minor role of Lucy's doctor, doesn't justify his presence.  Missi Pyle ("Big Fish") continues with her streak of unrealized potential in a tiny role as one of Henry's tourist dates.

Perhaps the best thing about "50 First Dates" is its refusal to take an easy way out of Lucy's condition and still wrap up with a thoroughly satisfying, visually splendid ending. Drew Barrymore brings out the best in Adam Sandler - they could be a modern age Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy.


B+

Robin:
Henry Roth (Adam Sandler) is a marine veterinarian working at an ocean park in Hawaii and has real problems making commitments to the women he dates. Lucy Whitmore (Drew Barrymore) is a pretty local who has an unusual problem – a year ago, she was in a car accident which caused her to lose short-term memory and she can’t remember anything new for more than a day. Henry, when he sees Lucy for the first time, is intrigued and may just change his ways but not before they have “50 First Dates.”

Sandler and Barrymore captured our hearts in 1998 with the wonderfully warm-hearted romantic comedy, “The Wedding Singer.” Since then, the two have gone their separate ways professionally. But, their chemistry in that film made us cry out for more and they finally get together again with an original screenplay from freshman scribe George Wing. Director Peter Segal has the pleasure of bringing his stars, and their chemistry, together again and the result may well hit the ball out of the park.

The film opens with a bevy of beauties exulting over the great time they had in Hawaii with charming Henry. To avoid committing to any one woman Roth makes up all manners of stories, even claiming to be a secret agent preparing for a dangerous mission. To date he has been successful in his avoidance. Then, he stops at a local breakfast eatery and spies Lucy constructing a teepee from her plate of waffles. Intrigued by the pretty food architect, he strikes up a conversation and the two get along famously. Lucy invites him to join her the next morning for breakfast. Henry leaves, happy in his anticipation of the next day.

The following morning, he shows up at the restaurant and proceeds to pick up where he left off but Lucy doesn’t know who the heck he is! After Henry gets shot down, the owner of the restaurant, Sue (Amy Hill), draws him aside and, with a warning tone in her voice, explains that the young woman was in an accident that caused her daily memory loss. The prospect of a relationship that requires no commitment appeals to Henry and he decides to make a fresh play every day for Lucy’s affection. There is a price to be paid, though, and Henry finds that he is falling in love with someone who forgets who he is from one day to the next. The challenges that Henry faces is one of the many charms of “50 First Dates.”

Adam Sandler is best known for his often mean-spirited and cynical characters as in “Happy Gilmore” and “Big Daddy.” He showed us a different face, and a charming one at that, in “The Wedding Singer” and proved that he could carry a romantic lead. It has been eight years since and I, for one, wanted to see Sandler revisit the romantic comedy genre. When I heard of his re-teaming with Drew Barrymore I was hopeful but skeptical – heck, I remember all too well “Little Nicky.” I need not have been worried.

The chemistry between Sandler and Barrymore is just as strong and palpable as it was eight years ago. The tag line: “Imagine having to win over the girl of your dreams…every friggin’ day!” gives the feel of a typical Adam Sandler film. But, with Barrymore involved, we get a warm and funny romantic comedy that benefits from a number of things. The long awaited reuniting of the stars shows that the chemistry between them was not a one time thing and they play beautifully off of each other. George Wing’s screenplay capitalizes on the charm of the stars as, in episodic manner, Henry tries to win anew each day the heart of pretty, brain-damaged Lucy.

As one expects, once Henry learns of Lucy’s condition, he becomes obsessed with the challenge of wooing the woman who, from one day to the next, cannot even remember his name. I expected the story to be simply a series of dates with Lucy being “cured” by the love of a good man. Far from it. “50 First Dates” goes beyond the basic idea and brings into play such things as Lucy’s father (Blake Clark) and brother (Sean Astin) painstakingly recreate her last day of real memory – and they do it every day. This heartfelt bit of melancholy is just one of the factors that make this a good date flick and beyond. Scripter Wing doesn’t cheap out on us, thankfully, and constructs an appealingly different kind of story.

The supporting cast is solid all around. Clark and Astin are credible as father and lisping, muscle-headed, steroid-abusing brother, Doug. Amy Hill puts caring dimension into her character, Sue, as she tries to protect Lucy from emotional harm. Pomaika’i Brown, as Spam and egg slinging cook Nick, generates humor and honest affection for Lucy. Rob Schneider gets the most out of his supporting performance as Ula, Henry’s pot smoking native Hawaiian assistant who is always ready to lend his friend advice on matters of love. He has a bunch of kids with Ula being first among equals with his tots. Better still are two non-human characters, Jocko the walrus and Willie the penguin,  stealing the show with their anthropomorphic hijinks. A 2000 pound walrus giving a high five is funny stuff.

Techs are sound and the Hawaii locale a beautiful setting for this charmer.

There is something for almost everyone in “50 First Dates” and I recommend it as a first-rate first date flick. I give it a B.

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