Film Discussion

Throwback 20: The Wedding Singer

Ready for a trip down memory lane? Except this time it is an Inception-like nostalgia trip to a nostalgia trip: In 1998’s The Wedding Singer we were transported back to the high (contrast) life of 1985 to small town Ridgefield, New Jersey.

Robbie Hart (Adam Sandler) is the aforementioned singer, full of the love for everything matrimonial and an all round nice guy, until he is jilted at the altar by his fiancée Linda (Angela Featherstone) and has all this good will stripped from him. After a dive into depression and self loathing he is slowly brought back around by his blossoming friendship with wedding waitress Julia Sullivan (Drew Barrymore) as she uses Robbie’s insider knowledge to help plan her own wedding to Glenn (Matthew Glave), a misogynistic self-serving asshole.

This has to be one of Sandler’s most restrained performances and it is all the better for it. With only a couple of his trademark shouty rants (that are entirely appropriate), he manages to keep everything relatively low-key for the entirety of the duration. He genuinely is a nice bloke in this, nothing at all adolescent or irresponsible. Barrymore is every part his equal in this as the delightful Julia, possibly slightly naive but still honest.

The chemistry between Sandler and Barrymore works really well in an understated way: they click almost immediately but then Robbie leaves the scene, focussed on his own wedding and promising to sing at Julia’s upcoming nuptials. The lighthearted playfulness is evident throughout between the two, even when it comes to light how much they mean to each other, maintaining that slight comedic air that carries throughout even the  more romantic moments.

The thing that sticks the most, other than the chemistry between Sandler and Barrymore, is the amazing soundtrack. I have to hold my hand up and say that it is really fantastic and probably just about enough of a dip into the better tunes from 1980s without scraping the bottom of the barrel (and there is a deep barrel of 80s tunes that are best left there!). And on top of that, they have all been chosen to fit into storyline perfectly, lifting the story and enhancing the emotion or action as required. And to tell the truth Sandler’s singing is actually pretty good, being likeable and charming. In fact so much so you’d be perfectly happy to have him perform at your wedding (pre-meltdown that is).

The list of supporting characters are all great from his ever willing Fonzie wannabe best friend Sammy (Allen Covert) through to Julia’s “easy” sister Holly (Christine Taylor) to Robbie’s sister and brother-in-law and their family, they all fit in and provide a wonderful atmosphere for this romantic, easy-going, comedy to come to life. Cameos are frequent in Sandler films and this is no different, in fact most of the time it just seems like Sandler gets all his mates to make a film with him, because he can, but these ones have relevant appearances from Billy Idol, Steve Buscemi and John Lovitz.

The painstakingly recreated style of the 80s is amazing. Hairstyles, clothing, dancing and even references and speech are all bombarding you with nostalgia punches all the way through. Having lived through the 80s most of these brought a wry smile to my face in recognition of, in retrospect, some terrible fashion decisions!

Helmed by regular Sandler director Frank Coraci (The Waterboy, Click, Blended) and written by long-term collaborator Tim Herlihy (Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, The Waterboy, etc) this is a detour from the adolescent humour and rage-outbursts prevalent in these other films. On top of this Herlihy penned the two fantastic original tracks from The Wedding Singer “Somebody Kill Me” and the beautiful and funny “Grow Old With You”.

Subsequent films starring Sandler and Barrymore have been variable but never quite recapturing the vibrancy that The Wedding Singer does. However, I did enjoy 50 First Dates and you could do a lot worse than Blended when trying to find a watchable “Date Night” film.

Looking back on The Wedding Singer it is clear that times have changed, certainly since it was set but also since it was made. There are some uncomfortable moments that are played for laughs but are probably considered to be overstepping the mark in today’s society. Glenn as a character is meant to be despicable and the embodiment of male culture – money, possessions and women (and this is actually called out by Billy Idol himself. Who’d have thought it?!). But this objectification also happens to Julia, at the bequest of Robbie, at one of their events.

Much like Molly Ringwald revisiting her films from the 80s and realising that they aren’t quite as innocent as they first seemed, looking back from a time of different sensibilities will always change the way a film is perceived and this one is no different. It may be played for laughs but that doesn’t change the underlying sentiment.

If you can suspend your beliefs for a little while and manage to revel in the glorious day-glo and bad hair, Miami Vice references and atrocious style choices and the astounding soundtrack (including Ellen Dow singing Rappers delight. Genius!) then you are in for a real, mostly feel-good, love-affirming treat.

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