Marine veterinarian Henry Roth cares more for the animals at his Hawaiian sea park than for the carousel of tourists he beds and deceives. He’s a walrus-healing, penguin-bathing lothario who wants nothing more than to someday sail around the world unbound by commitment.
Then he meets Lucy.
Every morning she dines at the same restaurant and sits in the same booth, turning her waffles into architectural works of art. Henry is smitten by her beauty and girl-next-door charm. They hit it off immediately. But when he shows up the following day to see her again, she hasn’t the foggiest idea who he is.
Unbeknownst to Lucy, she suffers from short-term memory loss—the result of head trauma from a tragic accident a year earlier. When Lucy sleeps, all memories of the previous day get wiped clean and she awakes to go through the motions of that day all over again. Her father and brother go to bizarre lengths to construct a facade that will keep her oblivious and protect her emotions. They’re concerned that Henry’s interest in Lucy could upset their delicate charade. Undaunted, Henry cares for Lucy and decides she’s worth whatever struggles and sacrifices are required. So he proceeds to reintroduce himself to her—and win her love—every single day.
The central message of the film—that courtship and selfless romantic devotion are far more rewarding than quick sexual flings—is fabulous. It’s very much the same lesson Bill Murray’s womanizing Phil Conner learned in Groundhog Day: Sex and love are not the same thing, and only a sacrificial, long-term investment can satisfy the relational longings of the heart. Henry’s tireless attempts to “meet” and show his love for Lucy models 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. He’s sensitive to her emotional fragility. He labors to produce a video of their time together so that, each morning, she can pop it into the VCR and start the day with some context of their relationship. [Spoiler Warning] In the final scene, we learn that the couple eventually marry and have a child, suggesting years of longsuffering on Henry’s part. And because Lucy’s condition is incurable, there’s no reason to believe his situation will get any easier for years to come. Still, he keeps giving.
Lucy overhears Henry talking about his dream to sail around the world, and realizes he’ll never be able to do it saddled with her and her malady. So she breaks up with him in her own act of sacrificial love. Lucy is kind to everyone she meets. She shares a sweet bond with her father and brother, Doug, who care for her enough to daily put their own lives on hold in order to reset the stage for Lucy’s repeat of that day. They pull a newspaper off of a huge stack of leftovers dated the day of her accident. They paint over her mural so she’ll have a fresh canvas. They endure endless birthday cakes and viewings of The Sixth Sense (Lucy is always shocked by its surprise ending). Fortunately, the men learn that confronting Lucy’s problems is healthier for everyone than perpetrating a daily ruse or living in ignorance. Dad and Doug also strive to protect Lucy’s emotions at a romantic level. They try to keep the amorous Henry away at first, but later grease the wheels of their relationship once they’re convinced of Henry’s sincere love for her. Lucy volunteers at a facility that helps people with brain trauma.
The film’s open cuts back and forth to numerous women (and a man) describing their trip to Hawaii and the great sex they had with a guy they met there. They’re talking about Henry. His buddy Ula, trapped in a loveless marriage, sets Henry up with beautiful women so that he can live vicariously through his one-night stands. Ula frequently makes sexual remarks and lurid gestures. His cherubic little children talk about nipples and ask their dad, “What’s a nympho?”
A blonde in a bar comes on strong to Henry who, smitten with Lucy, turns her down. So the woman asks him if he knows anyone who will have sex with her. Henry may be patient, but he’s certainly interested in sleeping with Lucy when the time is right. After 23 “first kisses,” he touches her breast and suggests that he has put in enough time to earn that right. She doesn’t argue, and the pair end up in bed.
The film is littered with crass anatomical slang, kinky sexual references and homosexual double-entendres. Many of them come from Alexa, a sexually ambiguous colleague of Henry’s. Another character has had a sex-change operation. A running joke involves the enormity of a walrus’s penis. There’s a revealing shot of Lucy in a wet blouse.
Flashbacks to Lucy’s car accident show the vehicle spinning out and crashing. Her father hurls a shoe at Doug. Vicious physical comedy includes Henry slapping Alexa with a fish before coaxing a walrus to drench her in vomit. A penguin appears to get squashed flat by a car (the vehicle actually passes over it). Ula pretends to be kicking Henry on the side of the road in an attempt to get Lucy to stop and help him. Little do the men know that Lucy packs an aluminum bat. She proceeds to defend Henry by beating the daylights out of Ula. Lucy whacks Henry with a lacrosse stick. Doug (whose macho posturing rarely ends in violence) bum-rushes Henry, only to get flipped on his head.
Three dozen, including the s-word and “a–h—.” There are two extended middle fingers and other obscene gestures. Also, it seems it is now a requisite that every Adam Sandler movie feature frail elderly people spewing profanity.
Doug abuses steroids, though he is belittled for it and told by a doctor to “get off the juice.” Much is made of Ula’s marijuana use (in one scene he produces a joint from the cleft in his backside). Unaware that there’s no alcohol in her drink, one of Henry’s dates is convinced she’s getting tipsy as they hang out in a bar. Doug, Henry and Lucy’s dad drink beer together. Lucy and Henry consume alcohol. Doug smokes a cigarette.
People with lisps, weight issues and brain trauma are exploited for laughs. Henry wagers on his ability to have a successful “first encounter” with Lucy. He lies during some of his attempts to attract her or generate sympathy (implying that the end justifies the means).
50 First Dates is a stale cupcake of tasteless Sandler-movie clichés heavily iced with sweet sentiment. What could’ve been a funny Valentine upholding noble romanticism and sacrificial love turns out to be a crass, run-of-the-mill comedy aimed at 14-year-old boys fascinated by the noises they can make with their armpits. Is the Sandler/Barrymore fan base so puerile and unforgiving that they demand blasts of profanity, sex gags or walrus vomit every few minutes to keep them glued to the screen? The filmmakers think so. Sandler has talent, and can be self-effacingly hysterical at times. Barrymore is terrific in gentle, girl-next-door roles. But their first pairing since The Wedding Singer doesn’t respect their abilities—or the audience’s sensibilities.