Rewatching: The Wedding Singer (1998) Can One Song Save An Entire Movie?
The Wedding Singer is a 1998 romantic comedy about a lounge singer who falls in love with a waitress. A huge box office success, it split critics but is commonly considered one of Adam Sandler’s best films.
It might be said that the first step in the growing trend of 80s nostalgia began with The Wedding Singer, a comedy that is set in that decade and seems more of a parody of it than a nostalgic reflection, though there are some moments that find feel-goodness about the times. The filmmakers are surely fans of the 80s, and have some fun playing with the tropes of the era, with most of it pop-culture references and musical numbers, though there’s a few hidden gems along the way. It has its charms but doesn’t really have the heart it could have in giving the big hair years a genuine tribute, despite some genuinely funny moments and good performances.
The simple story follows Robbie (Adam Sandler), a popular wedding singer at a hall in New Jersey who is left standing at the alter. It’s a blow that pretty much ruins him, sending him into a nasty spiral where he uses the stage like a pulpit to wax philosophical about the breakdown of his life. Not long after, a sweet-natured waitress where he works named Julia (Drew Barrymore), catches his eye. And why wouldn’t she? She bubbly, and bright, and brimming with ginormous charms. She also engaged, but when Robbie realizes her fiancée is a lout, he puts everything he has into winning her heart. A few branching subplots color the corners but it’s mostly focused on this single-trajectory relationship.
Directed by Frank Coraci, The Wedding Singer is a Sandler comedy that is often hopelessly contrived and empty of any real inspiration, cobbled together from dozens of other romantic comedies in a story that is often as generic and predictable as well, an 80s pop song. Through a series of obvious circumstances and some manipulated incidents, Robbie and Julia spend almost the entirety of the film separated so that when the ending comes it will seem all the more emotional but let’s be honest, getting there is not all that surprising. There’s little sophistication in this set-up, which hinges on miscommunication, despicable fiancées and ill-timed events, but it met with broad appeal for it simplicity. An easy to digest plot topped by very likable performances is sometimes all it takes. And this one took.
I want to talk a bit about the ending, so if you’ve yet to this and are considering, don’t worry, spoiling an ending like this would be like finding milk in a milk carton and being surprised. In the story, Julia and Robbie constantly think that neither is interested in the other and when Julia thinks Robbie’s gotten engaged again, decides to go through with her own wedding plan. Her fiancée, Glenn (Matthew Glave), is of course an ass who cheats and parties and makes everyone wonder why the warm-hearted Julia would ever want to be with him in the first place, but she gets on a plane for Las Vegas with him anyway, looking to get married smack dab in the middle of Sin City.
Obviously, Robbie chases after her but unknowingly gets on the exact same plane. Coincidence? He’s sitting in First Class and soon discovers she is in the cabin behind him. He decides to take action. And here’s where the film abandons all sense of reality, sending the story into a kind of fantasy where the entire plane and all its passengers take to Robbie’s cause and work to bring him and Julia together. This includes 80s pops singer Billy Idol, playing himself because you know, it’s an 80s film.
Certainly breaking a number of Federal Aviation Administration regulations, Robbie is able to use the in-flight communications system to sing a song and well, you can guess what happens. As Glenn is unceremoniously dumped in the rear lavatory by the flight crew, the rest of the plane listens as Robbie strums on his guitar (accompanied by a magical unseen horn and string section that somehow just plays in the background), singing tenderly that he wants to grow old with her.
Now let’s be clear. It’s a good little tune and undoubtedly touching in it’s frank and honest promise of a life where he will take care of her unconditionally. It is entirely the reason why the ending hits with any punch at all and is a surprising bit of affection that gives Robbie a whole new layer of redemption, not too mention how actually genuine the song is. When you listen to it carefully, it’s not just sweet, it’s a bold commitment. While most love songs in this genre are saccharine platitudes of generic romance, Robbie’s playful but earnest song is a pledge of faithfulness and a testament to his devotion. And damn if I don’t tear up. It just about saves this movie.
The Wedding Singer is a film that tries to revel in nostalgia and yet has now itself become rose-colored for the very same reason. While it’s great to see the talented Barrymore lighten up the screen, there’s little here to really make it anything more than empty fluff, but even saying that, I will admit that Sandler does pretty well and aside from his magnificent turn in 2002’s Punch-Drunk Love, does some of his best work. Plus, there’s 85-year-old Ellen Albertini Dow rapping the Sugar Hill Gang‘s Rapper’s Delight. ‘Nuff said.