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Fifty First Dates (PG-13) (2004)

Columbia Pictures

Official Site

Director: Peter Segal

Producers: Nancy Juvonen, Jack Giarraputo, Steve Golin, Larry Kennar, Adam Sandler

Written by: George Wing

Cast: Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Rob Schneider, Sean Astin, Blake Clark


Surprisingly enough, it’s better than cute. Not exceedingly believable, but better than cute. 50 First Dates adds a shade of the serious to America’s beloved romantic comedy with a devastating brain injury that manages not to reek of “Days Of Our Lives.” Lucy Whitmore (Barrymore) is a dewy-eyed Hawaii local who unknowingly relives the same day over and over again due to a short-term memory disorder. Although the trailers flout the brain hitch as a comedic device, the situation is actually sadly touching. Thankfully for Barrymore, though, it’s the plot that depresses the audience, not just her acting. Although she does a fairly decent job of playing a sweet-but-not-all-there trauma victim (huge stretch, right?), I still cringed at every predictable smile, pout, and awkward monologue.

The second love-struck victim in this unlikely pair is Henry Roth (Sandler), a slick aquarium veterinarian with a taste for tourists and no-strings-attached sex. The lines he feeds these women to escape involvement range from the ridiculous to the truly appalling. But even as he hops from hotel room to hotel room, we learn that he also has a genuine reason for not attaching himself to one woman. In a quest born of nobility or boredom, Henry intends to study walruses in their natural habitat just as soon as his joke of a ship can be made sea-worthy. That’s before he meets Lucy, that is. Apparently the magnetic pull of her waffle teepees and utter stup-innocence causes him not only to break his rule of never dating a local, but to date her again and again and again. Maybe the guy likes a challenge, but honestly, folks, who wants to earn someone’s interest—shit, just their recognition—every single day? I get pissed off when my cats don’t remember who I am, much less the object of my affection. It’s an unlikely situation—an island player falling in love with a woman who can’t remember him the next day—but then again, so was the ending to Shallow Hal. It’s fun to believe in nice things, isn’t it?

Living in Lucy’s absurd little world are her protective father and brother (Clark and Astin), who are so determined to maintain the girl’s illusion that they’ve seen The Sixth Sense more times than Robert Downey Jr.’s been busted. Yeah, that many. Of all the performances, I was most surprised—and delighted—with Astin’s. As a Napoleonic body-builder with a heavy lisp and a stash of steroids, Doug Whitmore both cracked me up and turned me on. I realize the goofy Raybans and midriff-baring mesh jerseys were probably supposed to cultivate a different reaction, but, well—Samwise Gamgee, you got hot! On the opposite end of that spectrum—think your drunken uncle who adamantly refuses to wear a shirt or long pants—is Ula (Schneider), Henry’s best friend. His role, of course, is mainly to make lewd jokes and rub his bloated body in a mimicry (or should I say mockery?) of sexiness. I’ve also got to add that Schneider affects the worst Hawaiian accent I have ever heard. If Chong ever needs a stand-in, this boy’s got his back.

50 First Dates is a bit tricky to label; it mixes romance with drama, slapstick comedy, and actual comedy. While the basic injury-and-emissions stunts make their cameos throughout the film (Hello? Sandler movie?), and a few familiar “old man saying vulgar things” and “ugly person with overactive libido” shticks pop up as well (an androgynous vet assistant made me painfully aware of how valuable a good moisturizer is), the bathroom humor is kept to a decently limited supply. Sandler’s performance is much more low-key than his usual belligerent screaming bits, making him actually resemble an actor instead of an ass. What Robin Williams and Jim Carrey learned earlier in their careers is finally making an impact on Sandler, too—i.e., less is more.

Although the plot sometimes leans toward the “yeah, wouldn’t that be nice if” category, the movie as a whole is entertaining and—though I shudder to say it—feel-good. I’m sure it’s already been flaunted mercilessly as a Valentine’s Day gig, but in all honesty, this is the kind of movie that you can go see even when your “significant other” is merely a sweater on a seat. (Don’t diss it till you try it—that sweater didn’t fight me for the armrest once!) Girlfriends will enjoy it for the laughter and tears, boyfriends will be grateful for the sex they get afterwards, single girls will love it for the reaffirmation of Prince Charming, and single guys will appreciate it for the occasional vomit and penis joke. Is that a crowd-pleaser, or what?

—Emily Younger

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