What a pleasant film! Everything isn’t perfect, but if everyone works together they can make it perfect. Well, almost. But the big message is everyone working together and dealing with a bad situation as best as they can.
I have to confess, 50 First Dates is one of my guilty pleasures. Not like at the top of my guilty pleasure list, but if I am flipping through channels and find it on the TV, I’m not going to turn it off. It’s got a kind of easy relaxed vibe to it, that just makes you feel like sunshine and happiness and it’s all going to turn out okay.
And that vibe definitely carried over to this remake. A lot of the details, really almost all of the details, are different. But the vibe is the same. Good people pulling together and making the best of something that really is not great.
In fact, that vibe got even stronger in this one, because more people were allowed to be “in on it” than in the original. But I’ll get to that in the spoiler part. Without spoilers, I can say that a lot of the reason both this film and original work is because our hero is not the traditional kind of hero.
Adam Sandler and Vineeth Srinivasan have at least one thing in common, they are both not traditionally handsome. Not unpleasant to look at, but not handsome. Which means they have to work a little bit harder to charm the audience, and their onscreen love interest. It makes them a little sweeter and smarter and wittier.
And to balance that, their “traditionally attractive” love interests (Drew Barrymore and Namitha Pramod) are also a little sweeter and smarter and with more of a personality than the usual love interests. The couple does things together, they have conversations, they learn about each other and work together on projects, and all sorts of things that give a different vibe than the usual “Our eyes meet and then a song starts!” kind of romance.
Also, because of the basic plot problem, both characters have to have strong and close supporting relationships. Vineeth has his friend Aju Varghese (hey! It’s the bad cousin from Ohm Shanti Oshaana/tourist from Jacobinte Swaragyam!), and his grandma (Hey! The Grandma from Jeans! And Hulchul! But she is more in Jeans mode here). And Namitha has her sister, who has been in nothing else that I can find but did a good job here. Oh, and her family friend/doctor.
(This is such an odd movie. Why in the world did they send it to the Oscars?)
Because of the basic plot problem (which I’m not going to talk about until the SPOILER section), this support isn’t just “oh, it’s nice to have”, but rather a necessity, a life long necessity. Which adds a whole other layer to the usual “meet the family, get family approval” kind of sequences. Namitha really needs a family that will love and embrace and care for her, more than a young potential bride normally would, and anything short of whole-hearted love and support isn’t going to cut it.
What gives the film a slight amount of depth, is the idea that Vineeth needs the reverse, a situation in which he has no support and is entirely on his own, to sort of make him grow up and face his own responsibilities. So, as Namitha is learning to let herself rely on others, Vineeth is learning to let himself take responsibility and make his own achievements. But mostly, it’s just a film about sunshine and happiness and good people doing good things. Which hopefully isn’t a spoiler, I am pretty sure you get that just from the poster! But I do want to talk about the other stuff in the film, the specific stuff, so SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER
50 First Dates and this film have the same incredibly specific “hook”, a woman who can’t form new longterm memories after a traumatic car accident, every night when she goes to sleep, everything that happened to her that day gets “erased”. So, what happens if she falls in love and then forgets the man she loved the next day? How can their relationship move forward?
After that basic set-up, though, the two films go in completely different directions. And it is the Indian version that gives the woman a lot more agency. Well, a lot more agency right from the beginning, the American film gives it to her by the end, but it takes a while.
We start with Namitha’s perspective, for one thing. She is a sand artist, giving a show with the assistance of her younger sister. They are congratulated after the show by their old family friends, Doctor Uncle (played by Mukesh, who I have probably seen in something and just don’t remember it, and who is Vineeth’s dad’s business partner in real life) and his wife. And it is also mentioned that their parents had died years earlier, but the two sisters were doing all right by taking care of each other.
We follow her through a car accident, and there is a cool little closing of the loop because it is seeing Vineeth and smiling at him that causes her to be a little distracted and miss the truck coming towards her. So, she and Vineeth were always fated to fall in love, it just had to happen a little differently because of her condition, that’s all.
And then the doctor tells her sister that Namitha will never recover the ability to form new memories. But, Namitha is part of this discussion too! In 50 First Dates, there’s this creepy thing where Drew Barrymore’s family has decided to not let her know what happened. To let her keep living her life as though it was that same day over and over again and never learn about her accident and her condition. This is a terrible plan! At some point, she is going to realize that she aged 20 years overnight, and so did her father and brother. That there are strange new cars on the road and new electronics in the house. It ends up strengthening the romance a little, because Adam Sandler is the only person in her life who cares enough, and sees her for the strong person she still is post-accident, to suggest that they let her in on the “secret” and let her start working with them on finding ways to cope. But I like it better here, where Namitha knows the truth from the beginning, and reacts calmly and reasonably and immediately starts figuring out a way to keep living.
She lands right away on the same solution that Drew Barrymore took a whole film to reach, that she can simply keep a diary of everything that happens that is important to her, and read it every day to catch up on her life. It could even be seen as an advantage, because any bad memories she can just not write down, and it will be like they never happened!
When Adam Sandler meets Drew Barrymore and falls in love with her, he doesn’t realize what her condition is, because she doesn’t even know what it is herself, and is just living her life without being aware of her challenges. But when Vineeth meets Namitha here, he doesn’t realize she has a condition, because she has overcome her challenges to such a degree that she doesn’t even think about them any more. In a way, 50 First Dates is a slow revelation of Drew’s essential strength, strength that her family and friends were too close to see. While this film is the opposite, the slow discovery of Namitha’s weakness, weakness that she hides from her family and friends for fear of causing them hurt.
The big difference structurally is that Vineeth and Namitha have an honest conversation pretty early on about her condition, how she handles it, and how he fits into it all. There’s no drama about “can we fall in love all over again every day?” Of course they can! It’s just like any other courtship, he has to convince her that he is her friend, get her to “remember” him (write him down as someone special in her memory book), slowly win her over, and finally get her to decide (and record so she remembers the next day) that she is in love with him. And after that, everything seems to be working great! Vineeth and Namitha are happy together, her sister approves, and Vineeth even pushes Namitha to meet his family and start moving towards marriage!
This is the part that I found just fascinating and, in a low key way, a really good depiction of the problems of disabilities. Namitha is fine, for now. She can take care of herself with her memory book, her sister is always there to help out, she can even support them since her artwork requires no memory to function. But, at some point, things are going to change. Her sister will want to move away, get married, do something different, and Namitha will either have to struggle with the guilt of holding her back, or enter into a much scarier and lonelier phase of life. Namitha desperately needs to build new connections and a new community and a new family, one that can provide her more support, but who will be willing to take on “damaged goods”?
That’s the other part of this, what does it take to be willing to take a situation like this on? Vineeth loves her and doesn’t acknowledge the problem. But, in a way, that kind of makes it worse. He plunged headlong into this relationship without thinking through how his family will react, how he will live with her in future, what it really looks like to commit to someone who will need some level of constant care.
What makes Vineeth’s attitude of “oh, it will all work out!” partly understandable, is that Namitha is in denial as well. She may be fully consciously aware of her situation, unlike Drew in the original, but she still thinks she can “handle it”. Even when Vineeth invites her to stay with his family and help prepare for a wedding (Vineeth has been pushing the relationship a little because he already told his family he was engaged, actually lied to get out of an arranged marriage before he even met Namitha, and then fell for her so quickly that the lie turned into truth, because he really does want to marry her), Namitha is a little thrown at first, but then confident she can pull it off.
And she does! They set up a computer and earpiece system so Vineeth’s grandmother and friends can help her remember who she met the day before, and she is so gracious and sweet that his whole family falls in love with her immediately. Seemingly, it is all going to work out! His family loves her, she loves them, they will get married and Namitha will have the extended support system she desperately needs.
Only, this is all just luck and chance, they haven’t hit a roadblock yet and they inevitably will. Vineeth hasn’t really thought through what it means to commit himself, and his whole family, to a woman like this. And Namitha hasn’t thought about the sacrifice she is asking for from him.
All it takes is one night driving around together, falling asleep in the car and not being able to check her notebook when she wakes up. And Namitha wakes up in a strange place, with a strange man, and no notebook to explain to her what has happened. It wasn’t something really unusual or impossible, but something that will likely happen to her many times in her life, likely already has happened many times. This is what they have to be prepared for, and what Vineeth’s family has to understand, if they want to move forward with a relationship.
They both do a really nice job with this scene, Namitha’s blind panic, Vineeth’s combination of concern for her, and subconscious pain that she won’t trust him, that she truly doesn’t know who he is and that he won’t hurt her. It’s just a mess, made even worse by him trying to conceal it from his family who don’t understand what is happening.
And in the end, it is Namitha’s decision. Once she has calmed down, read her notebook, understood what is happening, it inspires her to finally take charge of her life in a way she can’t go back on or “forget”. This is exactly the final resolution of 50 First Dates, and I am so glad they kept it. The woman gets to make decisions about her own life, unusual enough for a female character, and even more unusual for a disabled female character! She decides that she doesn’t want to be a burden, even if he is willing to accept her as she is, and is voluntarily removing herself from his life. And, which is a note this movie hits a little harder than the American one, she also removes herself from the lives of her family. Checking herself into a care home instead of continuing to be a burden to her loved ones.
That choice feels a little bigger in this movie, because we spent so much more time with Namitha working with other people to build a life in the world. This isn’t a sudden response to discovering her situation, her initial response was to stay with her sister, to fall in love with Vineeth, to figure out a plan to manage, to embrace life. It is only when she is suddenly confronted with the price her choices take on all those around her that she decides to back away from life. In the original, the love story served as a catalyst to force her, and her family, to begin dealing with the situation. In this one, the situation was dealt with, the love story just served as a catalyst to remove a deeper layer of denial, to really acknowledge what had happened to her life.
Oh, and then the super sappy ending, after Vineeth’s mother acknowledges that Namitha was good for him and made him a better person, and Vineeth’s beloved grandmother dies, he finds Namitha again. She has no conscious memory of him, but she keeps drawing his face! How sweet! And possibly not medically likely! But still sweet!
Really, that’s the best way to describe this whole movie. Probably not very likely. But sweet!!!