Much of what I have said about Adam Sandler has not been charitable. When he was at the height of his popularity during the 1990s, I was never a big fan of his work. I did not care for Billy Madison (1995) or Happy Gilmore (1996). I thought The Waterboy (1998) was kind of funny the first time I saw it. I doubt I would find it equally so if I watched it today. But here I am once more not behaving in a way befitting of my Faith, but that is being a critic for you. Hence, for dealer’s choice this weekend I decided to take a look at the one Adam Sandler movie I do enjoy: 50 First Dates (2004).
Henry Roth (Adam Sandler) apparently has a reputation for being Hawaii’s top womanizer. He is spoken about by several women, and one man (Kevin James), as the guy they all hooked up with during their vacation in the United States’ western most state. On the big island, he works as a veterinarian for the sea creatures at a local aquarium. His goal is to one day take his large sailboat up to the Arctic Circle in order to study the underwater habits of walruses. One day while taking his vessel out to see whether or not it is fit for such a journey, part of his mast snaps off the ancient timbers and he is forced to drop anchor and wait for a tow. While doing so, he takes his dinghy to the shore to pass the time at a nearby café. It is there that he meets Lucy Whitmore (Drew Barrymore), who is busy creating a log cabin out of her waffles. Their brief interaction turns into a long conversation that lasts long into the morning. Before leaving, though, they make assurances to each other that they will meet there again the next day. However, when he shows up at the appointed time, she has no memory of him. She suffers from a fictional condition called Goldfield’s Syndrome, which means that every night when she goes to bed her recollection of the day’s experiences vanish as if they never happened. This is the result of a car accident she sustained while out picking a pineapple with her father, Martin (Blake Clark), for his birthday. Due to a blow to her head, she now wakes up every day believing it is the day of her dad’s birthday. Clearly, this provides some obstacles to having a lasting relationship. Henry’s friend Ula (Rob Schneider) thinks it is the best situation for him given his ways with the fairer sex. But there is something about Lucy that makes Henry want to try to make this relationship stick despite the challenges. For a year, Lucy’s dad and brother, Doug (Sean Astin), have been repeating each day like it is Martin’s birthday. Henry comes up with a different solution: he makes a video for her to watch that explains everything that happened in the accident and since then, including how they met. This, along with constant updates to the video and his commitment to getting her to fall in love him every day, blossoms into a genuine romance. It also breeds a little sloppiness on their part, and when they fall asleep together one night and wake up the next morning, she understandably freaks out when she opens her eyes to find someone she believes to be a stranger next to her. A little later, she overhears Henry, Dr. Keats (Dan Aykroyd), and her dad and brother chatting about Henry’s proposed trip to study walruses. When she catches the part about it being on hold because he does not want to jeopardize the progress he has made with her, she decides to break up with him because she feels he is not living his life. This involves not only getting rid of the video they had been updating, but deleting him from the notebook she had been keeping in order to help her with her own memory. Henry is understandably devastated, but just when he is about to leave for his expedition, Martin and Doug show up to see him off. Martin gives Henry a compact disc (CD) of the Beach Boy’s greatest hits as a going away present containing the song “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” the song Lucy would sing on the days she met Henry. While listening to it, Henry takes it as a sign that Lucy does remember him. Not quite. However, when he arrives at the clinic where she had been staying, she shows him all the portraits she had painted of him from her dreams. He tells her that she made a mistake, and they decide to give it another go. The film closes with her waking up on his boat in the Arctic, apparently a couple years later due to the video showing their wedding and their daughter being present when she comes on deck.
What 50 First Dates does not have is what makes it charming. What it mostly does not have is your run-of-the-mill Adam Sandler antics. There are a few brief moments, but you can live with them. I also do not care too much for the innuendo in the film, both subtle and overt, but again they are blessedly short. What keeps me coming back to this film is the relationship between Henry and Lucy. Of course, romance films are nothing new. However, the added layer of Lucy’s condition makes it a wonderful example of the kind of sacrificial love the Catholic Church preaches. Though not specific to Christian ceremonies, it reminds me of the vows couples take during their weddings to cherish one another no matter the circumstances. Whether we want to admit it or not, the word “cherish” has its roots in Christianity. For centuries, man has attempted to come up with ways of describing a love that is deeper than that mere four-letter word. There is really only one way of doing so, and that is by ascribing anything beyond what we are capable of as being of God. When we come together in matrimony, we are called to model the kind of love God has for us in our relationships. Does it not make sense to think of that kind of love as inspiring someone to take care of a person with a condition like Lucy’s in these kinds of terms? In short, it is beautiful, just like God.
Though it is a somewhat innocent film, I would not recommend 50 First Dates to the whole family. There are some suggestive moments in it, sexual and drug use, that is not appropriate for children. Still, I love the way Henry treats Lucy, and his desire to do so makes for a serviceable character arc to boot. That, on top of the wonderful Hawaiian scenery, makes for a solid movie overall.