The Wedding Singer (1998)
Ah, the wedding. Is there any more fertile comedic ground? Momuments to unrestrained emotion and poor taste, awash in tacky music, adorned in frou frou fashion, family conflict laid bare and lubricated with booze, and all displayed, shamelessly, in public -- that is the wedding in movies, as in life.
So what could be funnier than the life of a wedding singer? Professional cheesiness, emotional ups and downs, career crisis and bad music against a backdrop of multiple weddings suggests surefire laughs. Throw in a rappin' granny, a Madonna wannabe, a Don Johnson devotee, a Michael Jackson acolyte and a jukebox full of nostalgic 80s hits (anybody remember "Pass the Dutchie"?) and you've got *The Wedding Singer*, an episodic, hit and miss potpourri of gags squeezed into a romantic comedy, set in those heady, lost-innocence, mid-Reagan-era days of 1985.
Robbie Hart (Adam Sandler) is the titular wedding singer, an all-around nice guy who not only sings and schmoozes, but smooths over family discord, shepherds drunks to the dumpster, provides newlywed counseling, and comforts co-workers all without wrinkling his shiny pink lame [MIK - accent on the e] tux. In his spare time, Robbie gives singing lessons to cute little old ladies who pay him in meatballs. Robbie's life is just dandy, until he is left at the altar by his fashion-victim fiancee Linda (Angela Featherstone), who decides that she doesn't want to be the wife of a mere wedding singer. Robbie falls apart. He mopes. He listens to The Cure (a sure sign of depression) and decides he hates weddings. Meanwhile, his pal Julia (Drew Barrymore), a perpetually chipper naif, finally gets her smarmy fiance Glen (Matthew Glave) to set a wedding date, but because the cad is busy womanizing, he doesn't have time to help her plan the wedding. So Julia enlists Robbie's help, and being a big brotherly sort, he agrees despite his misery, which inevitably leads to Robbie and Julia falling in love.
The plot is loaded with contrivances, conveniences and cliches (not to mention anachronisms), all designed to push Robbie and Julia together, pull them apart, push them together again, and so on. It's a mechanical, paper-thin, oh-so-sweet-and-innocent romance, and not a minute of it is believable or surprising, while the dialogue is even clunkier than the plot, serving primarily to drag the story along between musical set pieces that are too few and far between.
The real drive behind *The Wedding Singer* is providing narrative contexts for 80s alterna-pop songs, and given that MTV already existed in the 80s, that makes the movie something of a redundancy. What should have driven *The Wedding Singer* is Sandler singing -- he's hilarious every time he digs into 80s gold with the unabashed glee of a karaoke addict, and his own vicious paean to lovesick misery, "Somebody Kill Me," (penned by Sandler) is a hoot. Only in those all too infrequent moments does Sandler come alive in the role -- there's a snarly, goofy edge to the singer that is always just under the surface, even when he's crooning a treacly love ditty. That gleam of mischief is a welcome relief from the sweet, hangdog puppy love innocence of Robbie Hart, a character even Sandler doesn't seem to get.
Barrymore's Julia doesn't have any edge at all. She's all puppy dog, and never shows any teeth, even when Glen is kicking her around. The rest of the characters in *The Wedding Singer* are one-gag wonders: Julia's sister Holly (Christine Taylor) is a Material Girl groupie, Glen is all *Miami Vice*, right down to the Delorean and sockless loafers. Robbie's backup singer (Alexis Arquette) is a dead ringer for Boy George, and knows only one song ("Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?"), which doesn't go over well at weddings. There are movie-stealing cameos by Billy Idol, Jon Lovitz and, especially, Steve Buscemi in *The Wedding Singer* -- performances that are devilishly funny, a little bit mean, and a gratifying, sour counterpoint to the idealized, sentimental love story.
Come to think of it, *The Wedding Singer* is a lot like a wedding: everybody suffers the pinching shoes, pastel dresses, lousy food and the saccharine romance, all for the possibility that Uncle Leo will get shellacked and broadcast a few juicy family secrets before passing out in the champagne punch. It's those fleeting Uncle Leo moments, noisily ripping through the trifle and treacle like a chainsaw, that make *The Wedding Singer* worthwhile.