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Adam Sandler discovers the inner nice guy with "The Wedding Singer."

By Coury Turczyn

FEBRUARY 23, 1998:  Here it is, my one and only embarrassing '80s story: The year was 1983, and New Wave seemed like the harbinger of a brave new era. I had been an album rock guy most of my life, born and raised on Bob Seger and Ted Nugent—but now I was captivated by this shockingly modern sound. My college dorm floor ("S.N.A.F.U.") reverberated with the throbbing pulse of the Psychedelic Furs on a daily basis, luring me into a world of lush synthesizers and effeminate lead singers from England. Finally, I completely succumbed when Adam Ant played at the auditorium, with INXS opening. I put on my best mesh-equipped, horizontally striped shirt and went to the show—complete with war paint on my cheeks—and actually sang along to "Stand and Deliver!" at the top of my lungs.


Otherwise, the '80s passed me by in a blur. This really ought to be the portion of my life that I hold the most nostalgia for; I should be clutching my tattered copy of Bright Lights, Big City, weeping crocodile tears of lament over lost youth. Instead, most of my memories of the '80s condemn it as a very ordinary decade; back then, when we were making fun of the '70s, we had such easy targets—The Village People, John Travolta, solar power...What the hell were people thinking back then? we'd chuckle to ourselves, and turn up some Wham! UK.

Beyond a few short years at decade's beginning, what has the '80s really left us to make a mockery of? Not much. I mean, with the exception of silliness like the Flashdance look and supply side economics, the '80s were disappointingly mundane. Prince, REM, and Guns 'n' Roses all released their best records. Spy changed magazine writing and design for years to follow. AIDS became the defining issue for generations. And boring ol' George Bush became president. What's to laugh about?

Of course, this won't stop Hollywood. Studio executives have decided: Now is the time to mine '80s nostalgia. And the first movie out of the gate is The Wedding Singer, starring Adam Sandler as a hapless oaf who falls in and out of love. He plays Robbie Hart, the best damn wedding singer in town who can save marriages with a song and a few sincere words over the P.A. Coincidentally enough, he's getting married himself—something which he has been looking forward to all his life. But his bride never arrives, and he's left standing alone in his tux. Why? Well, he's pretty much a loser—a former rocker turned wedding singer living in his sister's basement. Distraught, he becomes the worst wedding singer in town, ruining marriages and making brides cry—until he meets a cute waitress (Drew Barrymore) at the reception hall and finds himself falling in love. Too bad she's engaged to a Miami Vice-type stud.

As romantic comedies go, this is a fairly amiable story that's far less annoying than most (i.e., any movie starring Jennifer Aniston—coming up, she pulls a Chasing Amy and falls for a gay guy!). Neither Sandler nor Barrymore are physically perfect glamourpusses, so they're actually believable in their roles as suburban nobodies. Never before has Sandler been so un-Sandler-like; that is to say, he's not an irritating idiot. In fact, he has reformed himself into playing a credibly nice guy, which must have taken some sort of acting ability heretofore undetected in his other movies. And Barrymore plays nice in an appealing, cuddly way—you could say there are even moments of chemistry between the two. Dare we call it enjoyable? Why not.

But that's not what people are coming to see, really (what—no ads with Sandler making kissy-face?). No, the '80s onslaught is what we're here for, and The Wedding Singer lays it on thick, relying on a nonstop soundtrack of moldy oldies (Kajagoogoo! Thompson Twins! Huey Lewis!) to conjure the wistfulness the script lacks. That's because the '80s don't actually play a role in the plot, not like the '50s in American Graffiti or the '70s in Boogie Nights. Nothing about the '80s defines the characters, their problems, or even the setting. Here, it's just a gag to throw in for fun; sometimes it's entertaining, sometimes it's overkill. It's as if the producers tried to compress all of the worst parts of the '80s into one year (1985) whether or not it was chronologically correct. Sorry, but J.R. got shot in '80 or '81, and Michael Jackson zipper jackets were passé by '84. Nope—by '85, things were pretty darn staid. Top Gun was on the way, and bands were rediscovering the electric guitar.

Perhaps, in the '00s, we'll approach the '80s with the same reverence we now accord the '50s, '60s, and '70s. Perhaps it will be recalled as a magical time of pastel sport coats, Nagel-style eroticism, and such legendary musicians as Power Station. But until then, expect to see the worst paraded before our eyes on TV and at the movies. Me, I'd rather just flip on Bachelor Party on TNT and see the real thing.

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