The aptly named Robbie Hart (Adam Sandler) is good at what he does — singing the hits of the 1980s and elevating the fun level at weddings, bar mitzvahs and other celebrations. “The Wedding Singer” captures that joie de vivre in an unabashedly romantic comedy that has hit written all over it. A spirited, funny and warm saga, the picture serves up Sandler and Drew Barrymore in a new way that enhances their most winning qualities. Commercial prospects are buoyant, with strong odds for the film to be the first genuine success story of 1998 and to show very good legs in international play.
Credit sequence sets the light hearted, almost surreal tone. Robbie belts out “You Spin Me Around (Like a Record)” as images of excess and indulgence are cut to the music. A little definitely goes a long way in this deft montage sequence.
What separates the title character from the pack is that in addition to his whole-hearted renditions, he has the “touch.” Robbie knows how to keep the party going, instinctively understands what to say and when, and knows how to disarm a ticking bomb in the form of a surly or soused relative or guest. His spirit is naturally infectious.
Julia Sullivan (Barrymore) shares that open, ingenuous quality. A waitress at events where Robbie performs, she’s hardly a world beater. She believes in love and family and has convinced herself that marriage to Glen (Matthew Glave) — a boorish womanizer — will fulfill her life.
After Robbie is stood up at his own wedding, all doubt is erased that these two are the right people with the wrong mates.
“The Wedding Singer” dishes out the classic romantic comedy predicament of getting them together before the final fade. We know it’s meant to be, and that there will be twists that delay the inevitable. So the trick is always keeping the audience engaged rather than frustrated by the trek toward a happy ending.
Director Frank Coraci and scripter Tim Herlihy work in concert to maintain a quality of farce rooted in human comedy. Structurally it’s like a series of syncopated opening and closing doors. The skill is in the filmmakers’ ability to camouflage the mechanical parts by means of digression, red herrings and simple sleight of hand.
The trump card, however, is the performers. Sandler, whose screen persona has been somewhat grating, is a revelation playing a character with innate decency. Unlike in past film work, you believe him as a romantic character and, even more important, that someone else would find him attractive. It is, quite simply, a break-through performance.
Barrymore also covers new ground as a light comic actress, making the most of the opportunity to play a vulnerable and appealing character.
Supporting players are uniformly strong, and Coraci deserves much credit for exacting just the right degree of outrageousness without spinning into some wild orbit. Playing Robbie’s best friend, there’s more than obvious humor in Allen Covert’s self-consciously macho posturing in the worst of ’80s hip gear or in Alexis Arquette, as a gender identity-impaired band member, only knowing the lyrics to Boy George’s “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me.” None of the characters are cheap targets of fun, and the script actually manages to put the situations into a human context that makes their foibles real and funny. There’s also genuine levity in cameos from Jon Lovitz and Steve Buscemi.
The film, set in 1985, allows for a palette of Day Glo colors artfully employed by cameraman Tim Suhrstedt to accentuate the garish side to otherwise quite ordinary events.