It's great when a big-time movie with an impressive pedigree operates in the way it's intended and results in a work of art.
But there's nothing quite like the pleasure of finding a gem in what should by all rights be a box of rocks.
A teaming of Adam Sandler, the "Saturday Night Live" alumnus and "Happy Gilmore" star, with Drew Barrymore, who has been playing the bad girl both on and off the screen of late, sounds like the kind of thing only an undiscriminating teenager could love.
The real surprise is not just that their movie, "The Wedding Singer," is a well-made and often hilarious spoof, but that it is, at its core, a very sweet film with a lot of heart.
It is set in 1985, when rock is lame and spandex, disco and poofy hair are wearing out their welcomes. The appropriately named Robbie Hart (Sandler) is an aspiring arena-rock singer who began taking wedding gigs to "make a little money until my music career took off."
But as the film's great opening sequence shows, Robbie has become expert in all the little dynamics that make a wedding reception work. Besides performing Muzak versions of popular tunes, he deftly handles the resentful toast of a groom's drunken brother, gives fatherly advice to a boy who sneaks too much champagne, and generally does Good Samaritan duty whenever he can.
Robbie meets a similarly sweet soul, Julia (Barrymore), a waitress at the only banquet hall in their small town. Robbie - who is engaged to a bubble-headed, big-haired fan (Angela Featherstone) of his former rock band - offers to lend his expertise at wedding arrangements to Julia, who is engaged to a junk bond-selling, Delorean-driving, "Miami Vice"-loving jerk (Matthew Glave).
The first half hour or so of "The Wedding Singer" is brilliant, seamlessly setting up the characters and gently spoofing the time through the nature of Robbie's business. Once Robbie is left crying at the altar, the story becomes more predictable as he and Julia gradually discover they are in love. In contrast to the party animals around them, they only want to get married and have a family.
The story is balanced by some laugh-out-loud comedy bits, including a screamingly funny cameo by "SNL" alumnus Jon Lovitz and a memorable song Robbie writes while in the depths of despair. Sandler is very good, and all the musical numbers - written with his longtime collaborator Tim Herlihy, the film's screenwriter - are a riot. Barrymore is almost Julie Andrews-like in her innocence - a real acting stretch.
"The Wedding Singer" is bound to do big box office with the teen crowd, but everyone under 40 is bound to enjoy its take on a decade they've lived through. The PG-13 rating is for some frequently raunchy language, but it is rarely inappropriate and mostly satirizes speech patterns of the time.
The only time this movie goes for cheap laughs is when it too frequently seems to think that it is automatically funny to have old people do something vulgar. But it is hard not to appreciate its premise that the party lifestyle is empty and that commitment is the key to long-term happiness.