Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Wedding Singer Movie Review

First published in The Connecticut College Voice on 20 February 1998.
Republished here with minor editorial adjustments that do not affect content.

A Rubik’s Cube, a Freddy Krueger mask, a red Michael Jackson leather jacket and plenty of classic tunes are some of the icons that inhabit the romantic comedy The Wedding Singer starring Adam Sandler. This movie is one of the first in what will probably be a series of 80’s nostalgia flicks. Last year’s Grosse Pointe Blank may have paved the way but we will probably be seeing more films set in the 80’s rather than those which remember the 80’s the way GPB did.

Sandler plays Robbie Hart, a once aspiring rock star who now lives with his sister and brother-in-law and pays his way as a suburban wedding singer, performing some of the great hits of the decade. When Robbie gets dumped at the altar by his fiancĂ©e, he falls into despair until he befriends waitress Julia (Drew Barrymore). Inevitably, Robbie falls for Julia, but unfortunately she is engaged to Glenn (Matthew Glave). And oh is he the wrong guy! Aside from being a typical 80’s character (he is obsessed with “Miami Vice,” drives a DeLorean and is a junk-bond salesman on Wall Street) he also treats Julia like a dog treats its fleas. And that could be construed as a compliment for him. Glenn cheats on her constantly and plans to do so even after they’re married, and he has no respect for Julia’s feelings whatsoever.

Of course it’s just a question of time before Julia realizes what a jerk she is planning to marry. That’s just one of the many conventions in the formulaic plot. It has a very typical boy gets dumped, boy meets girl who lifts his spirits, boy falls in love with girl, girl falls in love with boy, there is a misunderstanding and everything works out in the end. It is not so much the rehashed plot that bothers me, but the rehashed character of Glenn. How many times have we seen the despicable boyfriend/fiancĂ© who should be dumped for the nice guy of the film?  Too many times I’m afraid to say. Glenn is certainly the epitome of undesirable partners. What I would like to see more of are movies which go against type and give the girl a good boyfriend whom the audience likes, but who is not right for the girl. However, the film must give the audience a reasonable and realistic explanation for the girl’s eventual decision to choose the “right” guy. Nora Ephron pulled that off successfully with Sleepless in Seattle, and I think that it’s time to change the formula.

What the film lacks in creativity it makes up for in nostalgic appeal, good casting, good acting and some very funny moments. Anyone who either grew up or had their prime teen years during the 80’s will enjoy the rampant, and sometimes overdone, symbols of the era. Director Frank Coraci bombards us with them:  we see a guy break dancing at a club; we hear a reference to J. R. being shot on “Dallas;” Robbie and his best friend sport mullet hairstyles; and the soundtrack includes hits such as After the Fire’s “Der Kommisar,” the Psychadelic Furs’ “Love My Way,” the Thompson Twins’ “Hold Me Now” and The Cure’s “Boys Don’t Cry.” Most interesting about the soundtrack is that it does not contain a lot of the chart topping songs, but more of what was considered to be the underground songs of the day. Being that they were not the most popular then, it is interesting that they should be recognized today as classic 80’s tunes.

One of the funniest characters in the film is Robbie’s backup singer, George (Alexis Arquette), a nearly perfect Boy George look-alike who performs a karaoke version of The Culture Club’s “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me” as the audience boos and shouts nasty cat-calls. Also notable are cameos by Steve Buscemi as a drunken best man and Billy Idol as himself. Sandler’s acting is something to be admired in this film. While on stage, he is his usual loud, self-important buffoon a-la Happy Gilmore, but once he steps off stage, he becomes a shy, reserved boy. He is too trusting and too generous to achieve anything significant in his life. (He gives singing lessons to an old lady in return for meatballs.) Is it possible that Adam Sandler is making a career turn into taking on more serious roles? Now that we know he has the potential, we’ll have to wait and see what he does with his talent.

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