The thing about Adam Sandler is, his heart is in the right place.
For example, in Happy Gilmore, Sandler plays a rookie golfer trying to beat a self-confident jerk of a pro. If the star were any other comic, that would be enough motivation to drive the movie, but with Sandler, the rookie also wants to win the prize money to help his grandma keep her house.
That extra motive doesn’t make Happy Gilmore a funnier movie. It doesn’t really add any genuine emotional depth, either. In fact, the motive is almost totally irrelevant to the movie. But Sandler’s philosophy seems to be, if it’s a token gesture, why not make it a nice gesture? That is endlessly refreshing.
In The Wedding Singer, Sandler is right on track. The fact that he’s a wedding singer is only superficially relevant to the story. What kind of a wedding singer he is even less important. David Spade could have filled the role with cynicism and sarcasm. He could make fun of the fat, ugly, or embarrassing people he meets at weddings, and the story would be intact.
But Sandler instead brings a mature goodness to the character. He seems to really enjoy the people at weddings and treats them as though they were his own family. Robbie Hart (Sandler) doesn’t just sing at weddings; he also gets the loners to join in and have fun, and he smoothes it over when someone does something embarrassing. He is exactly the man you would want at your wedding.
The day comes when Robbie has his own wedding, and he is stood up by his heavy-metal bride (the movie is set in 1985). Robbie takes it hard. He doesn’t sleep, he doesn’t eat, and he gets punched out at work when he sings “Love Stinks” at a wedding. Julia (Drew Barrymore), who waitresses all the weddings in town, gives him a shoulder to cry on and an ear to talk to.
Eventually, Robbie starts rebounding toward Julia. He really likes her, but she’s engaged. Her fiancé is a self-confident jerk (do I see a trend — nope, just a formula) who doesn’t deserve her, but Robbie is too depressed to fight for her hand. Julia seems to like Robbie too, but she can’t leave her seemingly safe and stable fiancé for the off-chance that Robbie might be serious about her.
You know the story. You’ve seen it a million times before. There’s always a new way to tell it, with new lovers, new chemistry, and new details, but it’s the same story. And sometimes, it works.
The Wedding Singer works.
First of all, the chemistry between Sandler and Barrymore is effective. Actually, it’s not so much the chemistry between the two as it is each one’s own romantic tension. Sandler captures the forlorn sleepwalking look of a jilted man, struck with an unattainable love. Barrymore is charming as the girl next door looking for someone serious to settle down with. Sparks don’t fly when they kiss, but they both seem right for each other.
Second, their love is mature. They are not driven by passionate sexual attraction — they’re a cute couple, but neither Sandler nor Barrymore is centerfold material. Instead, they are both looking for someone meaningful, someone to settle down with, someone to grow old with. At a wedding, Robbie comforts a kid throwing up in a dumpster while Julia sits by. The repulsing situation is taken in stride, as if the two were already parents, caring for their sick child.
The ‘80s soundtrack and references play a big part in this movie. Other critics liked this movie in part because of the ‘80s soundtrack.
I liked it in spite of the soundtrack.
Often, the music and references felt forced. For example, Robbie tells his ex-fiancé to “get out of my Van Halen t-shirt before you jinx the band and they break up.” (Ha ha ha. Get it? David Lee Roth did leave Van Halen!) Or how about when Sammy (Allen Covert), Robbie’s chauffeur friend, shows up at a party wearing a Michael Jackson jacket and — get this — a single silver glove. (That’s exactly what MJ used to wear all the time!).
Unfortunately, making fun of generalizations about a past era is too easy to be rewarding.
That’s not to say the movie isn’t funny. Screenwriter Tim Herlihy has written for Sandler before (Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore), and the two make a good combination. Herlihy knows what sort of jokes Sandler is good at and has tailored the script to his straight-faced, smart-aleck style.
Let’s hope Herlihy and Sandler stick together for a few more projects because this movie really won me over. With Barrymore’s charm and Sandler’s heart, it was hard to go wrong.