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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

The Wedding Singer (1998)



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You've seen this story before, many times. It's the one where the boy and the girl are hooked up with jerks and don't realize they're meant for each other until they've spent time comforting each other and having misunderstandings until the end of the movie, when everybody has revelations and the jerks get their comeuppance. With a story like this, it's not the events that count but the characters. Are these people we care about and enjoy watching? If so, the plot hardly matters.

Therein lie my conflicted feelings about The Wedding Singer. It gets half of it right and flubs the other. Drew Barrymore is the half that's fantastic. Adam Sandler is the half that's atrocious. Certainly their characters are a perfect pair, but what a botched casting job it is to put Barrymore and Sandler together. Barrymore is has the rare gift of appearing utterly genuine on the screen. She doesn't hold anything back; she doesn't sacrifice honesty for glamor. She's not afraid of making herself an easy target in exchange for bringing to the screen a character so real, unguarded, and vulnerable, that we can't help but like her. She does nothing that's not true beneath the surface. When she laughs, her laughter originates from deep down. When she cries, the heartbreak within is tangible.

Why then, was she paired with a guy who has never looked genuine on the screen? Sandler tries too hard to act funny instead of simply being funny. It is the plot, not his performance, that tells us when his character is speaking and acting from the heart and when he is not. But how could we identify with him anyway? One moment he's the kindest man on the planet; another, he's yelling at kids and insulting strangers. Granted, a guy that's just been through a traumatic break-up isn't always going to have it together, but the movie doesn't play his reactionary outbursts for character development but rather for humor. And what is funny about a wedding singer singling out members of his audience and calling them fat or androgynous or nerds and telling them they'll never find love? This scene could have been hilarious if he, in his anguished state of mind, had simply inadvertently humiliated himself instead of others as well, but this way the scene is merely uncomfortable and in poor taste.

A single ridiculous scene illustrates the impact Sandler and Barrymore have merely by the force of their personalities. There is a scene where Barrymore dances with a shy 14 year old boy, and he gets fresh with her. (Much of this movie's humor comes from kids and old people being frank about things kids and old people generally aren't frank about.) It's an attempt at humor that is borderline at best, but watch how Barrymore deals with it. A lesser movie would have her become offended and put a stop to it, but Barrymore's surprised and amused disbelief is priceless. A greater movie, however, would have faded out before Sandler gets out into the dance floor and encourages a young teenaged girl to be fresh with him -- that's just tasteless, and how the scene builds from there is silly.

There is just one moment where I believed anything Sandler's character was doing, and it's hilarious. He offers to sing Barrymore a song but first explains how it's a little uneven: he wrote half the song before his break-up and half after. That scene felt real and was consequently very funny. If the rest of this movie were as genuine, it would be a treasure indeed.

As it is, well, I'm still glad I saw it. Barrymore and an excellent soundtrack were worth weathering the rest for.