Aug 12 2011
NOTE: there will probably be spoilers for the events of the film. Read at your own discretion.
“You’re the girl of my dreams…and apparently I’m the man of yours.” – Henry Roth
Even as I sit here writing this review, I can’t believe it. I’ve actually watched, and enjoyed, a second Adam Sandler film. Will miracles never cease? Thank you DA community, for urging me to give this one a chance because if you hadn’t, I never would have. But let me also be clear that it’s Sandler and Barrymore’s performances that work for me while some of the secondary arcs fell totally flat.
Henry Roth (Adam Sandler) is a marine veterinarian who works in a sea aquarium type job in beautiful Hawaii. He’s also a player afraid of commitment who has worked out various schemes that enable him to quickly hook up with, enjoy, and then dump lovely tourists when their vacations end. One day, he spies a beautiful young woman eating breakfast in a local diner and chats her up. But to his surprise, the next day when he approaches her, she seems to have no memory of him. That’s when Sue (Amy Hill) who owns the diner, pulls him aside and tells him about Lucy Whitmore (Drew Barrymore).
Over a year ago, Lucy was in a car accident with her father (Blake Clark). She sustained terrible brain damage that prevents her brain from processing short term memories into long term ones. Since the accident, each morning, she wakes up thinking it’s the same day and has no recollection of anything she did the days before. Her father and brother (Sean Astin) work to keep her from realizing the extent of her trauma since they’ve seen what it does to her to be told.
Now Henry has a dilemma. He can forget this woman or try to make her love him over again each day. Is there hope of a future for a man who can’t forget the woman of his dreams and a woman who can only remember him one day at a time?
In the movie, Lucy is presented as having something called Goldfield Syndrome which in reality doesn’t exist using that term. Her condition is actually closest to anterograde amnesia and though a rare condition, it can happen though maybe not quite like in the movie. So I would just advise people to go with it and enjoy the film. One thing that I do like about the film is that there is no magic cure. Henry uses some clever devices to help Lucy so she can progress in her life beyond the “Groundhog Day” existence she was leading but she doesn’t have another accident or anything else that suddenly restores her. As her doctor (Dan Aykroyd) tells her, her condition is permanent.
There are several things I truly enjoyed about “50 First Dates.” Barrymore and Sandler do have great onscreen chemistry. I loved Henry’s daily schemes to get Lucy to fall for him as well as the way he stands up to her father and brother when they try and get him to stop. I can really see him becoming a changed man. The scene where he watches as her family tells Lucy of her condition (again) and then all drive out the Callahan Institute along with Henry is both funny and heartbreaking and explained to me why Lucy’s family worked so hard each day to keep her from rediscovering her condition. I also liked the relationship between Lucy and her family. It’s that primal parental/fraternal thing that keeps these men enduring the same mind numbing day, over and over, in order to shield Lucy from any pain that they can avoid.
Director Peter Segal manages a nice balance between sweet, serious and funny in Henry and Lucy’s relationship. There’s the homage to the diner scene in “Groundhog Day” as Henry “meets” Lucy again and again as well as other “meeting” scenes including a hilarious one which shows that Lucy has a bat and doesn’t hesitate to use it to mete out justice. She also does some interesting “construction” projects with her daily waffles. These are counterbalanced by the emotional scene when Lucy – after hearing of how Henry has put his life’s dream plans on hold for her – goes to break up with him. And then doesn’t remember him when they meet later at his job. The ending was also a surprise to me and I’m still not entirely sure what I think of it.
But as much as I like Henry and Lucy’s part of the film, there are two characters I don’t care for. One is Henry’s friend Ula and the other is Henry’s coworker Alexa. The humor involving both these two is crude. In the case of Alexa, it’s at least a bit funny but with Ula it’s just crude and to me not funny at all. Since the film starts out with this, it’s something that has to be endured before getting to the good stuff with Lucy. Again, if not for people urging me to watch this, I might have turned it off early on.
This is definitely a movie that gets better as it goes along and one that I found I liked more the second time I watched it. The commentary with Barrymore and Segal is also worth listening to as they talk about some of the challenges and rewards of making the film. Watch for several “natural light” scenes, including one in the “golden hour” near sunset, which are lovely. While the medical stuff might not stand up to scrutiny, it defies Hollywood convention and presents a condition and then leaves the characters to cope with the created reality instead of contriving a magic fix. I’m glad I gave it a chance and really glad that I watched Tony Bourdain’s Hawaii segment so that I understand the abundance of Spam meals at the diner. B