50 First Dates

50 First Dates. Happy Madison 2004.

Before watching the movie:

As much as I lean into popular criticism of Adam Sandler, I have to admit I’ve been a little interested in this movie since it came out. It has to be pretty sweet if it’s a romantic comedy about a guy so dedicated to his relationship with a woman that he keeps getting her to fall in love with him every day. There’s usually at least a kernel of a good story in an Adam Sandler Comedy, at least the ones that don’t get immediately forgotten.

After watching the movie:

Henry Roth, a marine biologist working as a zoo vet on Oahu, is always seducing tourist women into short flings because he’s afraid of commitment. Having planned to sail a boat to Alaska to study the walrus population for years, on one of his attempts his boat breaks down and he waits for the Coast Guard at the Hukilau Cafe, where he sees Lucy Whitmore building things with her waffles. Returning the next day, he strikes up a conversation with her and they hit it off. Lucy invites Henry to come have breakfast with her again tomorrow, but the next day she treats him like he’s a stranger. Her friends at the cafe inform Henry that Lucy was in a car accident about a year earlier and every day since she’s woken up with no memory after the night before that day. Ever since, her father and brother have been going to great lengths to hide the passage of time from her to save her the pain of her reality. They don’t trust Henry, as someone who could know that she’s going to forget him the next day and be okay with it, to not take advantage of Lucy, and order him to stay away. But Henry finds new ways every day of engineering meet-cutes so he can continue to spend time with her, and eventually they relent when they see the positive impact he’s having on Lucy. When Henry sees Lucy have a day when her illusion is shattered, he proposes to the men that instead of keeping up the charade that can’t possibly last forever, he instead creates a Good Morning Lucy tape to allow her to gently catch up on the part of her life she’s forgotten, which not only enables Lucy to progress with her life, but also lets her relationship with Henry evolve.

I really feel the duality of Sandler here. He gives a very sweet, caring performance as a guy dedicated to caring for the disability of the woman he loves despite the severe impediment to the relationship. And then because it’s an Adam Sandler Movie, there are obligatory grossout, sexist, and gender identity jokes throughout. Several significant characters have little more function than to be a comic relief character either dispensing the punchlines that are in poor taste or being the poor taste punchline. Henry’s assistant Alexa has two functions: to be the butt of “are you a man or a woman? either way you’re ugly” jokes, and to be on the receiving end of slapstick gags. Ula, an Islander friend of Henry’s, is also only ever there to bring down the classiness of the movie with “I hate my wife” sexism, perversion, stoner jokes, or a combination of all three.

I’m often highly critical of heavily relying on pop music in a story, especially if it’s one centerpiece that the movie revolves around. However, where most such instances just find a song with a vaguely related title and slap it on for marketing appeal, this movie uses “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” as a motif and not only does it fit with the aesthetic of the movie, the whole thing is an apt song to describe Henry and Lucy’s relationship. While the song itself is about teenagers pining for an adult relationship, Henry and Lucy have their own reason why they can’t live together, say goodnight and stay together, wake up together, and hold each other close the whole night through. The use of the song greatly adds to the charm of the movie because it just fits so well.

The Hawaiian setting seemed like it was a little bit of a flourish for extra flavor, but it really couldn’t have been set in many other places. Not only does it have to be a tourist destination for Henry’s original MO of seducing women who have a flight to catch, but also it has to be a place that has pretty much the same weather all year if the charade for Lucy is to be maintained.

Most of this movie is a beautiful thing. It’s got some flecks of trash stuck to it, but at its core, it’s a very memorable, sweet story with characters trying to do the right thing for love and not always succeeding. There’s some beautiful scenery and the supporting characters that aren’t there to make it edgy enough for The Guys are sweet and funny too. Cutting maybe five minutes of this movie would bring it up to something fully recommendable.

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