Forgotten Gems: The Wedding Singer (*****) has a tune that still rings true

WeddingSinger

The Wedding Singer – 1998

Director Frank Coraci
Starring Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Christine Taylor, Allen Covert, Angela Featherstone, Matthew Glave, Ellen Albertini Dow, Billy Idol, Alexis Arquette, Frank Silvero, Christina Pickles, Steve Buscemi, Frank Dante, John Lovitz, Michael Shurman, Kevin Nealon, Steven Brill, Brian Posehn
Screenplay Tim Herlihy

There is an innocence that pervades The Wedding Singer.  The people are living in a time that is ripe for mockery, but they don’t make fun of their situation or themselves.  If these characters were more self-aware, they would not be characters.  They’d be actors reciting lines and looking for a cheap laugh.  Many of Sandler’s movies roll this way, and they are the visual equivalent of a dry turd.  This time, even the story could tip into ridiculous territory, but it never does.  Everything we see has a magical touch that Sandler films often touch but are rarely wallow in.

The strength of the story is not in its originality.  Romantic comedies have from The Philadelphia Story, to Roxanne (with its predecessor Cyrano de Bergerac), to Enchanted have given us romantic mismatches corrected by destiny.  This bristles with honesty, simmers with absurdity and compels with kindness.  Robbie Hart (Sandler) is the titular Wedding Singer who feels all right with the way things are going.  He’s been a wedding singer for too long, but he is not aware of that fact.  This is because he is due to be married himself in short order.  His friend, wedding caterer Julia Sullivan (Barrymore), and while her long time boyfriend has not proposed to her, she is happy for Robbie’s joy.

This joy soon becomes pain when he is left at the altar and Julie receives her long overdue proposal. Slowly he realizes that he has feelings for his friend.  Julia, while not necessarily aware or reciprocal of these feelings, is becoming aware that her ideal weeding or groom is going to have to be shelved as she takes what she can get. Will these two get together? It’s not so much the answer that is important, but the leisurely path the viewer takes to get to that point.

The cast has many actors that we somewhat recognize, though not by name (other than Taylor and Buscemi).  Each of these people get characters that are fully realized people, whether they live in houses with strange color schemes or have hair that you can see from space. They are all small town, but everyone has their pride intact by the end of film, (a rarity for Sandler films). These are all people most of us know.  They care about us, and we definitely care about them.  They aren’t there for a punchline and exit stage left.

Most of this comes from the combination of Herlihy and Coraci, as well the restraint of Sandler. This is one of the films that lead to the small amount of credibility that he parlayed into an endless amount of tamely lewd comic trash that make it hard for people to tell when he is going to come out with another good movie, like this year’s Blended (another joint effort with Coraci and Barrymore). It’s a shame, but who’s counting.  Sandler hasn’t killed anybody with his films yet. That we know of.

Drew Barrymore has a long and distinguished career that she’s made by being so sweet, comically nimble and genuine. All these years after E.T. and she still can win people over with that insistently happy smile.  Her long-suffering girlfriend Julia is the lynch pin to this story.  If she’s too much of a pushover, the willing suspension of disbelief is over.  She keeps it under control, though. We can see her as a good friend and wife material all at once.

It helps that she doesn’t have to watch an out of control Sandler bellowing at everyone he sees. His Robbie is essentially a sweet man with simple dreams. This is a character that hovers in Sandler’s wheelhouse, waiting to be belted for a home run. He allows everyone on the screen with him to have their moment in the sun, even if it’s overcast for him. It’s easily one of his top 3 performances.

This movie has just been discovered by the younger generation of our house.  She laughed throughout the movie, and unlike when she saw Blended, I did not feel any apprehension at an 11-year-old understanding what was funny about this film.  There is no crudity to make one wince, and although the ending is obvious, it’s nice to see one that age understand the subtle way they present that ending.

In another universe, perhaps, Adam Sandler could have corralled his talent into a Hanks-like career. We don’t have this, but it’s okay. Sandler’s ambition only goes so far, but at least he remembers his friends. This film will stand out – and it should – for both of the careers for Sandler and Coraci.  They’ve done a lot worse.  No one can take this one away, though.

(***** out of *****)

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