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Friday Film Review: 50 First Dates


50 First Dates (2004)
Genre: Romance/Comedy
Grade: B

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

~Jayne

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

30 Comments

  1. SHZ
    Aug 12, 2011 @ 04:13:35

    I’m with you – I hate Adam Sandler and romantic comedies, and yet I don’t mind this movie. It was running on a loop on the English channel when I lived in Asia, so I’ve watched it about two thousand times.

  2. Sami Lee
    Aug 12, 2011 @ 04:55:38

    I own the movie because I find it incredibly romantic and love to watch Henry romance Lucy again and again. I expected it to be as goofball as Sandler’s other stuff but found a depth to it I hadn’t expected. What Lucy’s brother and father go through, day after day, just to protect her, is an astounding sacrifice. And I love that Henry is a total commitment phobe who ends up throwing himself into a relationship that could never be considered ‘normal’. He is forced to work so hard that I can’t help respecting his efforts. Who wouldn’t want a man willing to go that far for love?

    I too love that there’s no magic fix to Lucy’s issues, although it makes the ending more bittersweet than happy. Thanks for reviewing this movie, one of the more unique rom coms out there.

  3. Rosie
    Aug 12, 2011 @ 05:13:51

    This is definitely a movie that exceeds expectations. Sandler and Barrymore just have IT together. Love the way they figured out a happy (or best possible) ending for Lucy and Henry.

  4. Shiloh Walker
    Aug 12, 2011 @ 05:45:11

    I love this movie… Adam Sandler is one of those actors I neither hate nor love-he’s just meh. Same for Drew Barrymore, but they totally made this movie work-the end of it of it is lovely.

  5. Jayne
    Aug 12, 2011 @ 06:05:22

    @SHZ – So you’re like Lucy in experiencing the events of the movie over and over and over and over and…

  6. Jayne
    Aug 12, 2011 @ 06:10:09

    @Sami Lee – the first time I watched the movie, I loved the “50 First dates” and watching Henry win Lucy again and again. But when we finally see a day from the POV of Lucy’s father and brother I thought – why are they going through this over and over? Seems a bit much. Then came the scene when Lucy finds out – again – what happened to her and seeing the pain on their faces because of the pain she was going through — whoa. It all made sense and as you said, gave the movie depth that I hadn’t expected.

    Henry’s total committment to winning Lucy and attempting to give her as normal a life as possible has me toying with buying my own copy too.

  7. Jayne
    Aug 12, 2011 @ 06:12:16

    @Rosie – it’s definitely a unique ending. Maybe Barrymore and Sandler just bring out the best in each other to get that IT vibe going?

  8. Angie G
    Aug 12, 2011 @ 06:14:00

    The scene with the baseball bat cracks me up! Too funny. :)

  9. Jayne
    Aug 12, 2011 @ 06:19:16

    @Angie G – OMG that scene almost made me pee I was laughing so hard.

  10. LG
    Aug 12, 2011 @ 06:19:52

    This is one of those movies I like to tell people who say they hate Adam Sandler to try. I, too, enjoyed Lucy’s relationship with her family, and it was kind of impressive that the movie didn’t end with a miracle cure. Although I’m still not sure that the ending didn’t break (or at least seriously bend) the rules.

    I only just barely remember Alexa, but I definitely remember Ula. I wonder if it’s some kind of requirement that Rob Schneider gets a part in every one of Sandler’s movies? I wish that weren’t the case, because Schneider is usually at the top of the list of things and people I hate the most in Sandler’s films.

  11. Jayne
    Aug 12, 2011 @ 06:26:48

    @LG – During the commentary for the movie, the director and Barrymore talked about all the Sandler regulars in the film – Ula plus a lot of people at the “Callahan Institute” so I’m guessing Sandler just likes to work with people he knows and is friends with.

    I kept waiting for Lucy to be “cured” a la Hollywood and was very (pleasantly) surprised when it didn’t happen.

  12. Minx Malone
    Aug 12, 2011 @ 06:55:23

    I adore this movie. I’m a huge Drew Barrymore fan anyway but this far surpassed what I expected from Adam Sandler. He plays “the ordinary guy” so well here and I think that’s why the movie works.

    Watching a normal guy fall head over heels to the point where he’d do all that was incredibly poignant. I am also really glad there was no miracle cure. They worked for their happy ending! Over and over again.

  13. Klio
    Aug 12, 2011 @ 08:13:13

    When this first came out I was intrigued by the premise enough to get past my general aversion to Adam Sandler movies (I loved Groundhog Day and have read more than one fantasy novel with magic-induced daily amnesia, so I can go along with the flow). But I was actually at the multiplex deciding what movie to see and saw the poster–blank-eyed Drew Barrymore looking like a brainless blow-up doll and with her waist airbrushed well beyond reality–and I thought, ‘Yuck, I can see where this is going,’ and I never gave the movie another thought.

    Yay for the days of Netflix and an easy way to check out something I missed.

  14. Jayne
    Aug 12, 2011 @ 08:23:14

    @Klio – I love Netflix. Well most of the time when they’re not hiking their prices. But despite that, I still think they’re a pretty good deal and love that I can try movies without buying or even paying to go to current releases and have my feet stick to the floor while enduring the people behind me rehashing the plot up til now for the benefit of the person who just got back with the popcorn and candy.

  15. Jaci Burton
    Aug 12, 2011 @ 08:43:38

    I just watched this movie for the first time last weekend. Like you, I had avoided it for a lot of years. After seeing it I’m sorry I had missed it. It was sweet and poignant and funny and I’m glad there was no magic cure at the end. I really loved it, and Sandler did a great job in the movie. Loved Barrymore, too. It was a great romantic comedy, with a lot of emotion.

    And yeah, I mostly ignored the weird secondaries, though I loved Barrymore’s dad and brother–they were great.

  16. DianeN
    Aug 12, 2011 @ 08:55:16

    I’m just not an Adam Sandler fan. Everything he’s done since the Hanukkah Song has just annoyed me beyond words, so although I love Drew Barrymore I never even considered watching this movie–because who wants to be annoyed beyond words, right? But you guys have made this film sound so wonderful that I’m determined to give it a try!

  17. Karen
    Aug 12, 2011 @ 08:55:52

    I agree–I had avoided the movie and then I caught it on cable (I think) while recovering from a c-section and there was nothing else on. It was a surprise from Sandler and I’ve watched it a few more times when it is on (though I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen the beginning…) I still cry at the end!

  18. Jayne
    Aug 12, 2011 @ 09:08:32

    @DianeN – I’ve got my fingers crossed that you’ll like it too. Just keep going until Henry and Lucy meet up at the diner.

  19. Jayne
    Aug 12, 2011 @ 09:10:46

    @Karen – honestly? I don’t think you’re missing much by not seeing the very beginning of the film There’s an opening montage of some of Henry’s past tourist flings which is funny but then Ula shows up for a while. Not much is lost by skipping Ula, IMHO.

  20. Amy Kathryn
    Aug 12, 2011 @ 09:11:26

    I had to buy this movie after seeing it on TV. As others have said, I would never have watched it under normal circumstances since I do not like Adam Sandler’s usual schtick. But the leads had awesome chemistry together, Adam’s character had to grow, and I really like Dan Ackroyd as the doctor. I have Wedding Singer on my list since you guys seem to agree that is another of his movies bearable to watch.

  21. Robin Bayne
    Aug 12, 2011 @ 09:12:08

    I enjoyed this movie too, but now know someone actually living a similar situation. In real life, the frustration of the affected person is much greater and can take over their entire life.

  22. Maryann Miller
    Aug 12, 2011 @ 10:05:54

    This was one of the few Adam Sandler films I really enjoyed, for all the reasons you mentioned, Jayne. The interaction between his character and Lucy was wonderful and showed that he does have a bit of depth to his acting abilities. I think Drew was perfect in her portrayal of Lucy and made her such an engaging character. Some of the plot lines suspended belief a bit too much, but I stayed with it for the characterization of those central characters, and the father.

  23. Rhianna
    Aug 12, 2011 @ 10:55:48

    So glad you gave it a try Jayne. :)

    I think Sandler and Barrymore just play really well off one another. This is one of my favorite movies to watch just to see a happy ending. It’s got that “against all odds” type of HEA that might not be completely realistic but feels good.

    The other two flicks I recommend to non-Sandler fans are Click and Bedtime Stories. The former is probably one of my favorite non-scifi/fantasy movies ever (it’s more of a dramedy) and the latter is really family friendly and has a superb cast that might surprise you.

  24. Karen
    Aug 12, 2011 @ 15:27:57

    @Jayne – I will be sure to catch the start next time! :-) And it shouldn’t be too hard, as my husband doesn’t mind watching this movie. (This one and The Mummy (1999) are two “romance” movies that he’ll watch…)

  25. cs
    Aug 12, 2011 @ 17:18:53

    In the minority because I love Adam Sandler.I don’t tend to watch cheesy movies all that often. But this one looks interesting.

  26. Kim in Hawaii
    Aug 13, 2011 @ 01:36:55

    Since I adored Adam and Drew in THE WEDDING SINGER (and its homage to the eighties), I am ambivalent them in 50 FIRST KISSES. This movie was filmed in Hawaii so it presents gorgeous shots of the islands. But I felt it stereotypes some of the islanders.

  27. Jayne
    Aug 13, 2011 @ 04:07:17

    @Rhianna: I think I added Bedtime Stories in my Netflix queue after the comments for The Wedding Singer. Good to know it has lots of fans.

  28. dri
    Aug 13, 2011 @ 12:31:25

    Yaaaaaaaaaayyyy, I’m so glad you went for another Adam Sandler film, Jayne, and I’m even more delighted you liked it! I totally agree about the no-magic-fix aspect … for the last forty or so minutes of the film, I was sitting in the cinema racking my brain as to how they could possibly solve it so wow, the fact that they didn’t was just fantastic to me as a writer and a movie buff.

    God, I love her reaction the morning after. And the little thing of her singing up on the ladder. *sighs happily*

    I just watched Just Go With It, Sandler’s latest to hit the DVD shelves. And I have to say yet again the man took me by surprise. As a rule, I tend to get my hackles up at Jennifer Aniston but man, she was so great in this I’m beginning to think he has a knack for bringing out the best in his costars. And some hilarious fabulous things said about plastic surgery and parenting. Plus one of the most unexpected cameos ever! I was literally “What? No! That’s not — in a movie about plastic surgery? No! Srsly? Omigod, it is her, no it can’t be. Good god.” And so forth. :p

    And yep, he definitely has a company of actors he likes to work with again and again. I always look out for Rob Schneider and Steve Buscemi and Allen Covert in any Sandler film. Just like I always look out for Owen Wilson in a Ben Stiller film cos chances are about 99% he’ll be there. :p

    Love your Friday film reviews, Jayne! May I also suggest, if you haven’t seen them already, Brief Encounter and Pygmalion? Just watched them myself and oh man. So fabulous and so romantic … well, one is overtly romantic, the other isn’t which makes it somehow even more potent and tantalising. :p

  29. Jayne
    Aug 14, 2011 @ 20:41:16

    @dri: Hmmm, I’ve been debating watching “Just Go With It.” That’s the remake of “Cactus Flower,” isn’t it?

    I haven’t watched “Brief Encounter” but will read up about it. I did watch “Pygmalion” years ago but don’t recall much about it.

  30. dri
    Aug 16, 2011 @ 03:30:08

    Ooh, yes it is and you’ve just reminded me I really should track down and watch Cactus Flower … *makes note*

    I’m slightly obsessed with Pygmalion at the moment, especially in terms of their relationship and the push and pull of power, the refusal to change despite the love that is clearly there. So yeah, I’d definitely be interested in what you and other DA readers would think of that. :p

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