50 First Dates (2004)
“Imagine having to win over the girl of your dreams… every friggin’ day.”
Director: Peter Segal
Cast: Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Rob Schneider
Synopsis: Henry Roth is a man afraid of commitment up until he meets the beautiful Lucy. They hit it off and Henry think he’s finally found the girl of his dreams, until he discovers she has short-term memory loss and forgets him the very next day.
The idea of a lead character whose short-term memory is wiped clean each time they sleep is one that lends itself more to the thriller or horror genre than comedy. In fact this lightweight romantic comedy, which deals only superficially with the condition arising from head trauma, contains the seeds of a melancholic and despairing story. Imagine being Marlin Whitmore (Blake Clark) or Doug Whitmore (Sean Astin), the father and brother respectively of accident victim Lucy (Drew Barrymore), who awakes every morning believing it is the morning of the day of the accident that caused her brain damage. Imagine the horrible drudgery of having to live the same day over and over, watch the same football game, the same movie, then make the preparations necessary to prolong the illusion for another day. Imagine the creeping horror awaiting Lucy, thirty, forty years in the future. Awakening as a twenty-something girl only to discover when she looks in the mirror that she’s an old woman whose life is almost over…
But this is an Adam Sandler comedy from a time when his comedies still had a fifty-fifty chance of being funny, and the realism of Lucy’s condition is necessarily glossed over. And there’s nothing wrong with that because 50 First Dates is actually quite successful at what it attempts, with a sweet nature that ably deflects any suspicions of poor taste. Sandler plays Henry Roth, a marine-life veterinarian in Hawaii and a philanderer who specialises in seducing holiday-making singletons before brushing them off with fantastic stories of being a secret agent. To be honest, Sandler doesn’t really convince as a womaniser, but it’s a character flaw thrown in by screenwriter George Wing to demonstrate just what a big deal it is when he starts to fall for Lucy, who’s not only a local, but a brain-damaged one at that. To counter-balance this less than savoury side to Henry, Wing makes him a lover of cute sea creatures thus ensuring his character retains audience sympathy long enough for us to get to know him.
He first meets Lucy at a local cafe run by Sue (Amy Hill) and Ula (Nephi Pomaikai Brown), and is instantly smitten, as is she. But when he returns the following morning as arranged she initially ignores him and then dismisses him as some sort of pervert. Only when Sue takes Henry to one side and explains that Lucy suffered a head injury in a car accident the previous year that wiped out her short-term memory does her behaviour make sense. Undeterred, Henry sets out to woo her every day — with less than complete success. To make matters worse, Lucy’s father and brother, who slavishly recreate every detail of the day of the crash in order to spare Lucy the distress of repeatedly learning about her condition, don’t take kindly to Henry’s exploits, which threaten to wreck their carefully constructed illusion.
There are obviously about one million holes any half-intelligent viewer could pick in this scenario, not least of which is the countless random incidents that would likely conspire most days to destroy the Whitmore’s meticulous recreation of Lucy’s final fully-functioning day, but the beauty of the plot is that the slate would be wiped clean each night, so it wouldn’t really matter. It sort of calls into question why Henry feels it’s necessary to invent all these different reasons to hail down Lucy’s jeep on the road between the cafÃ© and her home once her father forbids him from seeing her, but it’s a device which allows the movie to show just what a lovable guy Henry is. Real life never really impacts on the plot — that’s presumably why it’s set on the picture-postcard beautiful island of Hawaii, where employment seems to be some vague notion rather than an economic necessity. And there are no really dislikeable characters.
Despite the fairy tale nature of the storyline, the plot does follow as realistic an arc as it’s possible for a fantasy like this to realise. 50 First Dates doesn’t run scared of poking fun at those in Lucy’s position — or worse, as depicted in the character of Ten-Second Tom (Allen Covert), whose nickname succinctly describes his condition — but manages to successfully negotiate the inherent risks of straying into bad taste territory.