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50 First Dates

Henry Roth (Adam Sandler) has a life any bachelor would kill for. He’s a veterinarian for a Hawai’ian aquatic park, and is refurbishing a boat for a trip to Alaska; in the meantime, he’s romancing gorgeous tourist women, then ditching them when they get clingy.

Things suddenly change when Henry's boat breaks down off the coast; taking his dinghy into shore to call the coast guard, he meets Lucy Whitmore (Drew Barrymore) at a local café and is immediately smitten, departing with a promise to see her at the same place the next day. But when Henry returns, Lucy acts as though she’s never seen him before. She lost all short-term memory retention a year ago in a car accident, and her family and friends, including the café staff, conspire every day to make sure she’s happy, even if that means pretending it’s the same day over and over again.

Lucy’s protective father (Blake Clark) and brother (Sean Astin) warn Henry to stay out of Lucy's life or else, but he just can’t go back to who he was before, and must come up with ever-crazier schemes just to spend a few minutes in Lucy's company each day…

Now, I know what you’re thinking. The plot I’ve outlined above sounds like a neat fit for the down-and-dirty slapstick of Happy Gilmore, and while it’s lighter and friendlier than that film, the first half-hour of 50 First Dates doesn’t give much more. Sandler seems true-to-form, with acting that’s at turns wooden and hammy; the supporting cast deliver the usual selection of cheesy one-liners (especially Rob Schneider, who delivers the majority of the obligatory sex jokes, and Luisa Strus' gender-ambiguous Alexa); there's at least one major gross-out; Lucy’s condition looks like a Groundhog Day-type excuse for god-knows-how-many jokes on the first date riff.

But trust me, stay in your seat, no matter how much you’re tempted to get up and leave; after about the first third of the film, the repetitive gags and “Ouch!” jokes stopped, and I was being treated to a heartfelt, well-performed (yes, even by Sandler) story of first love in the face of a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. The chemistry seen between Sandler and Barrymore in The Wedding Singer remains and deepens in this film. While trying to give much away, if you’ve seen these sorts of movies before, you’re expecting the cheap deus ex machina at the end, but 50 First Dates manages the considerable feat of delivering a solid and satisfying pay-off without resorting to a miracle.

On a more general note, it’s great seeing some familiar faces, each playing solid parts well, including Dan Aykroyd’s jocular clinical psychiatrist and Sean Astin making sure we don’t just remember him as “Sam from Lord of the Rings”, playing Julie’s muscle-obsessed brother with hilarious charm. Even Rob Schneider plays outside of his “whiny wimp” type under long hair, mo’ and dodgy eye as the lascivious Ula (I didn’t even realise Schneider was in the film until the credits rolled). The movie also breaks half of the "never work with children or animals" rule, with a penguin and walrus giving wonderfully cutesy performances.

Go and see 50 First Dates at the cinema. It’s worth the price of a ticket, especially if you like romantic films and can stand a dash of gutter humour; if you'd prefer not to risk it though, I wholeheartedly recommend it as a new-release rental.

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