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The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

    Sandler balances comedy, romance in ‘Dates’

    Is the world ready for a kinder, gentler Adam Sandler? An Adam Sandler who isn’t prone to fits of rage (“Mr. Deeds,” “Punch-Drunk-Love,” “The Wedding Singer,” “Anger Management,” et al)? One who doesn’t beat up everything and everyone he encounters (“Happy Gilmore,” “The Waterboy”)? An Adam Sandler without an annoying vocal performance (“The Waterboy” again, “Little Nicky”)?
    An Adam Sandler starring in a film not entirely about madness, mayhem and potty humor?
    A $41 million opening weekend answers these questions with a resounding “yes!” The artist formerly known as Canteen Boy returns to reign the box office this month in “50 First Dates,” a romantic comedy reunion with “Wedding Singer” co-star Drew Barrymore.
    The plot starts off as typical Sandler-awful double entendres, an androgynous German named Alexa and a projectile-vomiting walrus. Then one day Henry Roth (Sandler) stops by the Hukilau Caf for a nutritious breakfast of Spam and eggs and meets Lucy (Drew Barrymore), a lovely loner who’s a sucker for art and likes building sticky little houses out of her morning waffles.
    Our hero is smitten at first sight until he finds out that Lucy is a local.
    Henry, a veterinarian at a quaint Hawaiian aquarium, has been posing as everything from a cliff-diver to a secret agent to perpetuate an endless series of brief, meaningless flings with vacationing singles who’ll never uncover his true identity before their trips home to the mainland.
    Yet Henry’s attraction to Lucy leads him to rethink his stance on commitment and give up his lecherous ways. He returns to the caf the next day and pours his heart out to his beloved but to no avail. Lucy claims she’s never met him before and speeds away in her Jeep as Henry stands bereft and befuddled in the caf parking lot.
    Turns out that Lucy has a mental condition that allows her no capacity for short-term memory. Everyday she wakes up thinking that it’s Sunday, Oct. 13. That was her father’s birthday and the day of the car accident that robbed her of any new memories.
    It’s a broad set-up that makes one cringe in anticipation of all the silliness sure to unfold before the lovers end up arm in arm.
    How pleasantly surprising that this particular romantic comedy sidesteps most of the trappings of its tired, formulaic genre by facing Lucy’s condition with more of a hug than a cynical wink.
    There is muffled pain and genuine sweetness in the way Sandler pursues Barrymore long after he’s aware of her condition. Aware that each new dawn she’ll forget he even exists, he arranges to meet her on the roadside everyday despite the disapproval of her kindly father and lisping bodybuilder brother. He’ll fake car trouble, roadblocks, muggings-anything, really, to see her for a measly five minutes a day.
    Director Peter Segal (veteran of “Tommy Boy” and “Anger Management”) finally learns how to balance humor with emotional content in a film that plucks equally at the heartstrings and the funny bone. Though the film seems schizophrenic in its first half-hour (indulging in a shaky marriage of gross-out groans and wispy romanticism), it finds its feet as the love story progresses.
    Sandler and Barrymore have an easygoing chemistry that is strongest when the stars don’t overstress the material’s cuteness. Sexless flirtations turn realistically enough into out-and-out romance, and the stars play splendidly off each other in scenes spanning first kisses to engagements to breakups and back again.
    Barrymore plays her initial scenes with an innocent twinkle that is just a bit too glaring. Yet she reveals a depth of emotion in the film’s latter half that puts the audience uncomfortably inside the collapsing world of a woman who discovers (and forgets every day) that her life will never be “normal” again.
    Sandler keeps teeth-gnashing to a bare minimum and imbues his character with a goodness that steers the film more towards sentiment than slapstick.
    Henry’s dogged pursuit of Lucy might have come off as the pathetic flailings of a would-be stalker, but Sandler’s rumpled charm makes the audience rally behind Henry and never question whether he and Lucy should end up together.
    A strong supporting cast keeps the laughs coming. Rob Schneider creates one of the funniest characters of his career with Ula, an effeminate islander with a passel of kids and a drug habit. Also amusing is Sean Astin (in his first post-Hobbit role) as Lucy’s dense, steroid-popping “muthle-head” of a brother.
    The film is far from flawless. The first half-hour is a mess, uncertain in tone and cluttered in exposition, but the romance works and the laughs are big and plentiful when they should be.
    The leads are endlessly likable, and there’s just something timelessly satisfying in watching Rob Schneider get beaten senseless with an aluminum bat.
    It ain’t poetry, folks, but it’s a good mainstream film that takes itself just seriously enough to make you care about its characters and hope there’s a happy ending in store for them just beyond the next gorgeous Hawaiian sunset.

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    The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University
    Sandler balances comedy, romance in ‘Dates’