Thursday, 22 March 2012

50 First Dates (2004)

Dir. Peter Segal
Starring: Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Rob Schneider, Sean Astin

I don’t particularly like Adam Sandler or his movies. Most films of his that I have watched have a tendency to make me wish I’d saved myself the time and effort. Billy Madison and Click have to be in contention for the worst film ever made (even if they are, apparently, not as bad as his latest effort Jack & Jill). His one saving grace is his breakthrough movie, 1998’s The Wedding Singer, in which he starred opposite Drew Barrymore. I will stick my neck out and say that movie is quite possibly the most perfect date movie yet made.

So I experienced a moment of trepidation before watching 50 First Dates. Would it be as poor as most of his oeuvre? Or would his reunion with Drew Barrymore create gold once again?

First signs: not promising. Sandler plays Henry, a commitment-phobic lothario who loves ‘em and leaves ‘em among Hawaii’s tourists. He works in a water park / aquarium as a vet and has the requisite cute animals on tap – Willy the penguin, Jocko the walrus and Mary-Kate and Ashley the dolphins. He also has two annoying assistants – Rob Schneider’s scarred and spliff-toking Ula and Lusia Strus’s manly Slav Alexa. Dan Ayckroyd pops up randomly as a doctor and isn't even funny. That's Dan Ayckroyd! Not funny! Frankly he was funnier when he randomly popped up as a naval intelligence expert in Pearl Harbor. The humour really depends on the audience finding walrus vomit or, even more disgustingly, Rob Schneider, funny. Case closed.

Except then something funny happens. Drew Barrymore appears as Lucy, a local art teacher. And almost immediately the film gets better. Adam Sandler, too, gets better. He actually becomes quite cute and romantic as he falls in love on sight and attempts to win Lucy’s heart. Over and over again. Because Lucy suffers with (the fictional) ‘Goldfield Syndrome’ – short-term amnesia brought on by a traumatic car crash. Whilst she can remember her entire life prior to the accident, since then her memories of the previous day are wiped out upon falling asleep that night. Essentially she relives the same day over and over again; her crusty but caring father (Blake Clarke), steroid-popping would-be body-builder brother Doug (Lord of the Rings’ Sean Astin), and friends at the Hakilau Café keep up this myth to protect her. This would be perfect for Henry were she just another one of his girls: “anything with Lucy is a one-night stand”. But he wants more, and because of this Henry has to introduce himself to her anew and make her fall in love with him anew each day.

So far, so Groundhog Day, except that Adam Sandler is no Bill Murray. But then again, Drew Barrymore is no Andi MacDowell, so it all evens itself out. Barrymore is a great actress, and I think this is all-too-rarely recognised. She has wonderful comic timing, but she also has a face capable of expressing every nuance of joy, or love… and of pain. She is the emotional heart of the film, and it is easy to see why someone could quite easily fall for her caring nature, her appalling singing, and her hobby of making houses out of breakfast waffles. She is fun and quirky. Okay, she's not Zooey Deschanel-grade quirky, but she's still quirky nonetheless. Henry’s increasingly-contrived attempts to strike up conversation day after day are comic; once he has won his way into her protective family’s affections they actually become quite touchingly romantic. If you have ever fallen in love (whether it is with someone you shouldn’t’ve or not) remember that first moment when you knew you were in love. Nice isn’t it? Now imagine what it would be like to experience that moment every single day of your life. This is what Lucy has. Every day realising that she is in love, that someone loves her, and knowing that she has a first kiss to look forward to. As she says, “Nothing beats a first kiss”.

The film’s heart is in the right place. Love is about wanting the other person in your life to be happy. Lucy realises that she is getting in the way of Henry’s dream: to sail his boat up to Alaska and study walruses. And because she loves him she decides to break up with him so that he can do that. And because he loves her he helps to remove all references to himself from her diary. Suddenly the film has gone from Groundhog Day  to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I don’t want to spoil the ending – even though it is kind of predictable in many ways for a rom com – but love, of course, is more powerful than that. Sticking to the rom-com part of the story the film is surprisingly affecting. Unfortunately it is surrounded by a load of bad-taste humour – the ambiguously-gendered Alexa, Jocko’s vomit, Doug’s wet dreams, any scene with Rob Schneider in – that would be better suited for a different film. Cutting that out and focusing on the romance – and the super-cute Willy and super-talented Jocko – leaves a much more enjoyable film.

The star of 50 First Dates gives some acting lessons to Adam Sandler

What have I learnt about Hawaii?
Well, first I should point out that the Hawaiian flavour is just an afterthought. Apparently the first draft of the script had Henry and Lucy being memory-less in Seattle. All that has happened really is that some Hawaiian phrases get thrown into the mix and they talk a lot about pineapples. Man, those Hawaiians really love their pineapples. And – if the menu at the Hakilau Café is anything to go by – they also love their Spam and eggs. (But, ‘Hakilau Café’, eh? Well, we know what a hakilau is now don’t we, thanks to Blue Hawaii?). And due to this film I now know that aloha means both “hello” and “goodbye”, and that mahalo  means “thank you”. There is some humour dragged out of the Hawaiian language, as when an elderly Hawaiian customer translates his own internal monologue or when Ula solemnly makes a little farewell speech to Henry that actually means “Bring me back a t-shirt”.

There are local characters at the café, so already we have more cultural diversity than in Pearl Harbor. And Nick the cook (Pomaika’I Brown) has some really cool facial tattoos. But mostly all I learnt was that there is a regular stream of single, horny women that come to Hawaii on vacation looking for a bit of no-strings fun before they go back home. Book your tickets now!

Can we go there?
Despite the fact that I knew that a lot of the film was shot in California rather than Hawaii I found it very difficult to spot which scenes were Californian and Hawaiian. But in general the movie is set on the eastern coast of Oahu, around Kane’ohe Bay (when Henry and Lucy are in the carpark of the Hukilau Café after their first date there is a truck marked up as belonging to the ‘Kaneohe Bay’ on its side). The café itself is actually located a bit further up the coast however, at Ka’a’awa, on the grounds of the Kualoa Ranch (other films shot on the ranch include Jurassic Park, Godzilla and some parts of Pearl Harbor. The same house features in Tears of the Sun, though it is meant to be in Nigeria in that film). Movie tours are available. 

While the aquarium at which Henry works is meant to be the Sea Life Park in Waimanalo the scenes there – including Jocko the walrus and his harem – were actually filmed at Six Flags Marine World in Vallejo, California. Jocko is really called Sivuqaq. Likewise, despite the fact that we see someone wearing a ‘Waimana Golf Club’ baseball cap, the golf course used in the film is actually the Ocean Trails Golf Club in Rancho Palos Verdes, California. Henry does indeed sail his boat off the coast of Oahu however. That is, until the end of the film, when he reached Blackstone Bay, Alaska. But most interior scenes, including the Whitmore residence, were filmed in the studios in Culver City, California unfortunately. 

Overall Rating: 3/5

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