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Salt Lake City Weekly Me So Corny

"The Wedding Singer" is a feel-good, old-fashioned love story.

By Mary Dickson

MARCH 2, 1998:  I never thought I'd say this, but that Adam Sandler is damned sweet. He's a genuinely nice guy, or at least he plays one in the movies.

In Frank Coraci's romantic comedy, The Wedding Singer, Sandler is downright adorable as Robby Hart, a struggling songwriter who ekes out a living performing for weddings, bar mitzvahs and of life's other minor and major celebrations, in a suburban reception center. Coraci gets the seemingly impossible from Sandler: a heartfelt, understated performance. Missing, except in a few appropriate scenes, is that obnoxious yelling that was his trademark on Saturday Night Live.

This is a quieter, gentler Sandler, and the toned-down version is surprisingly appealing. You'll see a side of him you've never seen, and, believe me, he'll win you over. The former SNL player has matured quite nicely, something a few of his cohorts never managed to do on the big screen. He's a natural-born comedian, but he's got a big heart in there that The Wedding Singer gives him plenty of room to show.

Oh, and did I mention he can actually sing — I mean, besides those two-note Thanksgiving and Hanukkah ditties he did on SNL? He has a passably good voice, which The Wedding Singer also gives him room to strut.

Sandler co-wrote a few of the songs he performs, including a funny number called "Somebody Kill Me" that harkens back to the SNL bits. This is the song his character writes before and after his break-up with his fianceé, making the tone, as he says, "uneven." The lyrics begin softly, "I can't believe I found a love so pure," before screaming into "but it was all bullshit!"

The film's sweetest song is also one Sandler co-wrote with screenwriter, Tim Herlihy (he's SNL's head writer), "Grow Old With You."

Call it corny, but The Wedding Singer is a feel-good, old fashioned love story high on heart and filled with plenty of laughs. You know from the moment Sandler's endearing Robby meets Drew Barrymore's flustered Julia that they'll end up together, but you'll still be rooting for them all the way.

The film is set in the not-so-distant past — 1985, to be precise — so there are references to The Incredible Hulk, Miami Vice, Fonzie, Vinnie Barbarino and Rubick's cubes. (Amazing how soon these little cultural details become retro).

This is the most garish 1985 you've ever seen. The year these characters inhabit is one dreamed up by an imaginative designer with a penchant for the bold, bright and gaudy. Where did they find those color combinations? Shocking aqua cummerbunds, day-glow pink ruffle shirts, fluorescent yellow kitchens with pink and red trim, purple doors on sunny yellow houses — they're all part of the The Wedding Singer's slightly off-center world.

The Wedding Singer
Sensitive, new-wave guy: Adam Sandler as Robby in The Wedding Singer.
Directed by
Frank Coraci
Starring
Adam Sandler
Drew Barrymore

The guests at the reception center are just as outlandish as the outfits and the decor. When Robby describes the "mutants at table 9," he's not kidding. Everything is just a bit overdone, but it works.

At these affairs, Robby Hart is the make-sure-everyone-has-a-good-time master of ceremonies. He not only sings the songs and emcees, but also acts as a fixer/referee. If a little kid gets drunk, Robby takes him out back to the dumpster to puke so his family won't see. If the groom's brother (Steve Buscemi, in a hilarious cameo) gets drunk and makes a scene, Robby smoothly guides him out the door. When an octogenarian wants coaching to sing for her husband at their 50th wedding anniversary, Robby gives her singing lessons and accepts meatballs as payment. He's the kind of sensitive guy old ladies, mothers, and women with any sense love.

Unfortunately, his fianceé doesn't have much sense. If you've seen the trailers, you know that Robby, the emcee at so many weddings, gets stood up at his own. Seems Linda can't bring herself to marry a mere wedding singer who lives in his sister's basement. She was hoping for a rock star. This is devastating news to Robby. Not only has he lost his bride, but he feels like a first-class loser. "People eat prime rib, and I sing," he laments, his ego badly bruised. "I can't do it anymore." When he does return to the stage, it's with songs like the J. Geils Band's "Love Stinks," much to the horror of unsuspecting newlyweds.

While Drew Barrymore's delivery as the new waitress at the reception center is wooden at times, she eases up and grows into the part. Her Julia is as decent and good-hearted as Robby. They're two nice kids, who go out of their way at a Bar Mitzvah to make a sad, fat boy and a girl with braces feel special. Unfortunately, the sweet young Julia is engaged to a first-class jerk. Glen is a sexist, womanizing pig, who refers to women as "Grade-A Meat" and wears a white suit and day's growth of beard to look like Don Johnson. When Julia enlists Robby to help her plan her wedding, the two start to fall for each other. But one misunderstanding after another keeps them from getting together.

Robby's best friend (Allen Covert), the limo driver, despite his appallingly bad taste — he likes the Michael Jackson look — and his pretense of "having a different chick every night," turns out to be a decent guy who knows the real score. Surprisingly, he gives Robby the best possible advice without sounding trite. "If you find someone you love, you can't let them get away."

The cast is rounded out with cameos by some of Sandler's old SNL buddies — John Lovitz as the disco king replacement wedding singer, and Kevin Nealon as the big-city banker who interviews Robby for a job. Famed '80s rocker Billy Idol also shows up to play a hand in bringing the couple together.

The Wedding Singer is nothing major, nothing groundbreaking. But it's a sweet little affirmation of following your heart that also happens to be very funny.


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