I’ve appreciated The Wedding Singer since it first came out, but I seem to grow more attached to it with each passing year. The 1998 Adam Sandler vehicle is so much better than it had any right to be, and this fact is made painfully more obvious with every new Sandler project, each one seemingly worse than the one before it. In fact, if you look at the careers of the people involved with The Wedding Singer, you’ll notice that it’s really an anomaly in their filmography. Between Sandler, Director Frank Coraci and SNL-veteran writer Tim Herlihy, this trio is responsible for a string of movies that seem so lifeless and unfunny (most recently The Ridiculous 6) that they feel almost completely phoned in.
I think the biggest reason the movie succeeds is because of the chemistry between the two leads, Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore. They are just so perfect in their scenes on screen together, both allowing their inherent vulnerability to be on full display. Sandler usually covers his up with his manchild routine, hiding behind voices in hopes that we’ll accept him anyway. But in The Wedding Singer, he’s almost completely unprotected. When he sings in the movie, he REALLY sings, and we realize that this guy actually has a decent voice and vocal range. Similarly, Drew Barrymore brings to her role what she brings to every role, which is herself. On a recent viewing with my wife, I leaned over and mentioned that every time I see Drew Barrymore in a movie I want to give her a hug. There’s a sweetness about her, an honesty and a kindness, that I can’t help but appreciate. We want these two to get together because we recognize that they’re made for each other. These two guileless people are meant to be together. A couple of years ago, Barrymore revealed on Howard Stern that she approached Sandler with the intention of persuading him to make an old-fashioned romantic comedy with her, so it’s not surprising that the vibe that permeates the movie was more or less her idea.
I remember seeing this movie in the cinema opening weekend (the theater was mostly empty) and being blown away that this was the new Adam Sandler film. I’d been expecting more of the same antics that were found in Billy Madison and Happy Gillmore (both co-written by Tim Herlihy, FWIW), but wasn’t prepared for how toned down Sandler’s performance is. His usual antics—the screaming, mostly—are here, but they’re pretty much window dressing for the main love story. This feels like an actor, a writer, and a director taking a big risk on something and seeing if they can turn in a story that’s less about dick and fart jokes and tries to tackle something more substantial. While the movie was a modest success and all my friends and I were talking about how great it was and how impressed we were with his acting, Sandler’s next few movies feel like a step backward into the protection of a comedic character to me. The next time we got to see a relatively straight performance from Sandler was in 2002’s Punch-Drunk Love, which I actually think goes too far in the other direction and gives him too much heavy lifting. I think I’m probably in the minority on this, though.