Has any horror film been able to immediately conjure up a feeling of dread, discomfort, and pure terror as the title of the Adam Sandler classic 50 First Dates? The awkward dance of trying to meet someone and determine what future may arise while presenting yourself in a way that makes it most likely to occur, always afraid of what minor mistakes may cause it to all come tumbling down, but repeated ad infinitum. No part of a relationship is worse than the beginning. That’s what makes this film, walrus vomit and all, so romantic. The love someone must have for another person to want to meet them again for the first time and go through all the steps again every single day is immense.
The film came in the middle of a couple of career shifts for Sandler. Having established himself firmly as a box office draw that could almost always turn a solid profit with his juvenile comedies in the late 90s, Sandler began to branch out in the early 2000s, taking on a handful of roles that allowed him to show off his skill as an actor, a few minor roles in films made by some of his frequent collaborators, and developing a penchant for a new wave of Capraesque comedies, especially with Click and a remake Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. The time also found his comedic persona going through something of a shift from the volatile jerk of his early work to the loveable fools of his recent films. In the midst of all these changes, there could be no one better than Drew Barrymore to co-star. Having starred as his leading lady more than anyone else with three films together across three different decades, Barrymore and Sandler have time and time again shown that they have one of those rare chemistries among performers that can work across the entire – albeit somewhat limited- spectrum of their careers, and always elevate the film to something entertaining and engaging. Even in Blended (the weakest of the three Sandler and Barrymore collaborations), every minute the two share on screen is endlessly watchable, and the trajectory from a somewhat contemptuous first meeting to falling for each other feels just right.
With 50 First Dates, Barrymore plays an amnesiac who starts every day believing it’s the day of the accident one year prior that caused her condition of forgetting everything since. As Sandler struggles to figure out what is wrong with her and later begins to fall in love with her, they get to play a fun sort of game where the meet-cute is repeated every day and takes every possible path, always finding an easy balance between the two leads. It’s a concept that leaves plenty of room for the gross-out humor and juvenile antics that are expected of a Sandler film, and many of the same gags from past films are repeated and new ones are birthed that would show up again in the future, while the regular stable of Sandler collaborators, like Rob Schneider, Sean Astin, Blake Clark, and Allen Covert all show up in their standard capacities, The soundtrack is also excellent, as most Sandler soundtracks are. At first it would seem to be one that could easily blend with so many of his other, more forgettable films, but it finds the heart more than most of his stories and has a handful of moments that are genuinely touching in the midst of the hilarity. With so many romantic comedies, the balance leans in favor of romance, trying to find the sincerity in big romantic moments and elicit a few tears at the expense of opportunities to play up the humor of the situation. But love is something that has to be humorous or else there’s no making sense of it, and the Sandler schtick with enough poop jokes to disqualify it from the standard lineup of romantic date night movies captures the spirit of it far better than anything played seriously. May we all meet someone we’d like to meet anew every day and share uproarious laughter with each and every time.