My Year with Adam is a series of essays that I will post throughout this year. The essays will be deep dives into a film starring Adam Sandler. They will not be traditional reviews, but an exploration of theme and what is conveyed by the central message of the film. Or, really, whatever about the film strikes me the most while watching it. As these are deep dives, no aspect, plot point or quote from the film is off limits, so if you haven't seen the film before and are sensitive to a viewing experience in which you know nothing, then watch the film and come back to the essay. The essays will appear in February, May, August, and November.
The Wedding Singer, directed by Frank Coraci and written by Tim Herlihy, could have easily been called, That '80s Movie. It's so chock full of '80s references that they often distract from the plot. The references are so thick that one may mistake certain conversations as something organic until the brand name is mentioned or the famous personality is referenced. I wish the film didn't have these shallow experiences because they cheapen something really fascinating going on underneath. The Wedding Singer is at its core a fascinating portrait of grief and how it can affect choices throughout our lives.
Robbie Hart is a wedding singer, yes, but he's also a shining light of happiness. He wants more than anything for newlyweds he sings to, to have the best day possible. In the first scenes, he steps in when the best man loses it. He helps a teenager who had too much to drink to the dumpster outside. He cheers up Julia who's convinced she's "doomed to roam the planet alone forever." Robbie's charming, sweet, and good hearted. His student Rosie even tells him, "You're a born romantic, just like your father was." Robbie believes in finding someone and holding on to them. The woman he finds, though, turns out to be the wrong person. He puts his faith so much into the institution that he doesn't look deeply at the person he's chosen to go along with him.
When Robbie's grieving the loss of his relationship with Linda, he's also grieving his parents. As Robbie's sister, Kate, mentions, they lost their parents when Robbie was still in elementary school. He's had a void in his heart he's wanted to plug for so long. Yet, Linda could never have filled that piece of him because Linda places value on power. She doesn't see who Robbie is, but who she desperately wants him to be. Any change she wishes for him would only be to her benefit, not his. Robbie's grief for the love of his parents now mingles with his grief that no one could accept him. When Linda shows back up as Robbie is at his lowest, she's almost more metaphor than actual human. Right before he crumbles at her feet, Robbie blurts, "I don't want to be alone anymore." He's felt alone his whole life and in that moment of desperation, he feels he has to accept that he's willing to compromise on someone as long as he's not alone.
Julia's not alone. She has a human sized weight around her neck named Glen. Decades of pressure and ideas about stability have forced her into this corner. Despite her mother's pressure to get her to walk down the aisle, she's very affected by her parents' relationship. The few times she and her mother, Angie, speak about it, Julia is reminded about Glen's wealth, his stability and that she's lucky to have someone like Glen. Everything in Julia's rational mind rejects Glen. When Robbie asks her about her thoughts on the "right one," Julia hesitates. She says, "The right one... I always just envisioned the right one being someone I could see myself growing old with." She pauses, though, realizing the cracks are showing and continues, "And Glen will be a really good looking older man." She's built herself a fantasy.
The two of them, Robbie and Julia, have built a fantasy around one another to avoid their loneliness, but it adds to their grief in another way. They grieve for the relationship that may never be. Despite their obvious chemistry, they pretend there's nothing between them. Julia keeps Robbie hanging on because she needs his positivity and charm in her life. She wants to help him get back to the man she first met. She wants him to be as happy as she pretends to be. Robbie, being the great guy that he is and knowing everyone in the wedding business, gets his charms back as he's distracted from his mourning of his failed relationship.
Yet, then they kiss. It's supposed to be innocent, a practice kiss, but the two of them know it was a kiss a long time coming. This throws each of them into a new phase of grief. A phase that's completely preventable, and, so easily remedied (My, God, why didn't Julia dump that pulsing asshole so much earlier!). All they have to do is admit it, take off the armor they've put up between each other and just try a relationship with one another, but that's not how movies work and that's not how grief works. Grief takes its time. It beats a person down into the mud with thoughts that they will never be happy again. Yet, as in the film, grief does have, if not an ending, a valley between the peaks. They find that even though they know that this relationship will have it's own share of grief, the valley of happiness is worth the eventual pain.
The Wedding Singer is a silly romantic comedy and an outlandish exploration of an unsung (get it?) profession, but it's also steeped in grief. Whether it's Robbie's grief of his parents or his relationship, Julia's grief over the choice she feels she's forced to make by society, the grief the two of them feel for the relationship they fear they'll never have, or the filmmaker's obvious grief for all of the artists, music, and innovation of the '80s, The Wedding Singer is full of the sadness inherent in the human condition. There's even grief in the watching of The Wedding Singer as this particular writer typing this now has analyzed and plumbed depth out of the oeuvre of an actor he's not particularly fond of and wonders if this experiment was at all worth it.