Is 1985 really so distant? The galvanising opening sequence of The Wedding Singer certainly makes it seem that way, with its barrage of '80s-style lettering, clothes and dance moves cut to the beat of Adam Sandler belting out a chintzy cover version of "You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)".
A number of distinguished American films of the 1990s, including Clueless (1995) and Romy and Michele's High School Reunion (1997), have undermined one of the most precious lynchpins of Hollywood entertainment moviemaking. They have shown themselves more drawn to incidentals – particularly details of culture, lifestyle and microscopic social manners – than to the grand formulae of commercial storytelling.
The Wedding Singer wages this war less well. Too soon, the lovely incidentals give way to an over-familiar plot. Robbie (Sandler), broken-hearted after having been dumped by his girlfriend, starts to fall for Julia (Drew Barrymore). She reciprocates the feeling, but remains committed to her rather slimy fiancé.
By spinning out the hate-turns-to-love game, old Hollywood romantic comedies were able to stall the realisation – for us and for the characters – that certain people were just (as a film title put it) made for each other. Since there is no one even remotely as smart, appealing or compassionate as Robbie and Julia in their small suburban milieu, director Frank Coraci and writer Tim Herlihy can stall the inevitable only by strewing various obstacles and misunderstandings in the path of these soulmates.
Although there is little that is novel in the premise or plotting of The Wedding Singer, many vignettes and details are spot-on. A scene in which Robbie performs a rather mixed-up song – half written before his break-up and half after – is a gem. Equally fine is the discussion (complete with demonstrations) between Robbie, Julia and her best friend of how newly weds should kiss at the altar – a choice between "porno tongue" and "church tongue".
Ultimately, it is the performers who carry this slight vehicle. Sandler, whose main tricks as a stand-up comedian are his whiny speech and zany singing, reveals an unexpected amount of leading-man charm. Barrymore, far less mannered than Sandler, exudes a sweet, natural, innocent quality that is completely winning.
The Wedding Singer is among the first wave of films in the late '90s to explore the attractions of '80s nostalgia – meaning, essentially, nostalgia for that decade's pop culture fads. Following the lead of the Back to the Future series, Coraci and Herlihy use their '90s-based hindsight to make jokes about only the most superficial aspects of the past fifteen years – the fate of certain show biz marriages rather than, say, the Gulf War.
As someone who gets a big kick from jokes about Boy George, Billy Idol, drum machines and Madonna's early dress sense, I cannot really complain about such myopia. But the supreme love-hate homage to the '80s still waits to be made.
MORE Coraci: Around the World in 80 Days
© Adrian Martin April 1998