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Holy Hell: The Wedding Singer Turns 20

Holy Hell: The Wedding Singer Turns 20

Built upon a foundation of underlying sweetness and sincerity that makes it feel more like a Nora Ephron flick than something from a guy who is still friends with Rob Schneider in real life.

In the twenty years since The Wedding Singer’s release, Adam Sandler has made a lot of shitty movies. That’s not to say he hasn’t delivered exemplary work for filmmakers like Paul Thomas Anderson (Punch Drunk Love) or Noah Baumbach (Meyerowitz Stories), but within the conventional paradigm of the Adam Sandler movie, he’s largely been sleepwalking through box office successes that tons of people would watch, but few could ever truly love.

The Wedding Singer remains the platonic ideal of the Sandler starring vehicle. Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore may be funnier, pound for pound, and Little Nicky will always be a dark horse favorite for its immense strangeness, but this adorable, ‘80s period romcom is too effective to deny. It’s built upon a foundation of underlying sweetness and sincerity that makes it feel more like a Nora Ephron flick than something from a guy who is still friends with Rob Schneider in real life.

Sandler stars as Robbie Hart, a failed musician moonlighting as the titular wedding singer to pay the bills. He’s engaged to a woman who only ever liked him for his rock star ambition, but then he meets Julia, (Drew Barrymore) a server at the wedding venue he often performs at, who’s engaged to a jerkoff who only sees her as a possession. Once Robbie gets dumped by his fiancé, he goes through a tumultuous depression that’s as painful to watch as it is utterly hilarious, but through that dark period, his friendship with Julia blossoms into something deeper. But, this being a romantic comedy, he’s trapped in a love triangle with her and her financially secure, “Miami Vice”-addicted beau.

From a structural standpoint, it’s odd that The Wedding Singer isn’t cited more by screenwriting enthusiasts. Sandler’s frequent writer Tim Herlihy isn’t exactly Alvin Sargent, but more than his other outings with the loudmouth funnyman, this is an airtight narrative that moves at the perfect pace. There’s very little fat left on the bone, and even extraneous interludes and random side characters are filled with iconic turns, like Steve Buscemi’s drunk wedding goer early in the film, or Jon Lovitz as a rival wedding singer profiting off of Robbie’s depression.

Sandler’s performance, in particular, is among his career best. Robbie Hart is a role that allows him to be relatable, on a personal level, but still indulge in the absurd explosions of cartoonish rage that typify his comedic persona. He’s still playing a kind of manchild, but he’s also a believable person with legitimate charm alongside his obvious failings. This version of the Sandler authorial stand-in plays so well with Barrymore’s Julia, exploiting the palpable chemistry the two stars would go on to display in lesser efforts 50 First Dates and Blended.

That this adorable romance is housed in one of the least cloying ‘80s-homage movies ever made feels like a nice bonus. The smart soundtrack curation and selective period details all drive right up to the annoyance line similar films would continue mining for the next two decades without ever crossing into cloying territory. Overall, it’s just such an effervescent and endearing film, it’s hard to believe it sits on the same shelf as, say, Mr. Deeds. What happened in the years since? Why hasn’t Sandler ever, y’know, tried this much in his own movies?

Sandler seems content to only turn up the effort dial when he’s inspired by other filmmakers and is perfectly fine churning out empty, occasionally entertaining throwaways for his current Netflix deal. It’s a shame he’s not bothered to try this hard anymore. Luckily for us, The Wedding Singer still comes on TBS roughly 70 times a week.

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