"The Wedding Singer" has been praised for delivering responsible messages to teenagers about alcohol. But this PG-13 comedy may actually promote binge drinking.
Early in the movie, Adam Sandler delivers the often-quoted lines that on the surface seem to be rays of light for impressionable youth. Sandler plays Robbie, a wedding singer who exudes the combination of warmth and "cool" characteristic of adult role models. He advises a boy who is vomiting into a trash dumpster to wait a few years before drinking again.
"Remember," he cautions, "alcohol equals puke, equals smelly mess, equals nobody likes you."
Unfortunately, the film soon undermines this logic, lending his well-intentioned words all the impact of a Surgeon General's warning; in other words, not much of one.
The main characters, Robbie and Julia (Drew Barrymore) are responsible types who initially refuse alcohol. "No thanks, I'm not a big drinker," they each profess, mouthing lines worthy of the D.A.R.E. (Drug and Alcohol Resistance Education) program.
But actions speak louder than words.
When upset, Julia resorts to slugging down straight shots. Bobbie installs himself at a bar with a battalion of oversized shot glasses, then heads for the alley hugging a liquor bottle in a brown bag. Robbie winds up passing out on the lawn, Julia retching in a lavatory.
Both role models are portrayed as victims of their feelings--literally "driven" to drink. Binge drinking thus appears to be a "normal" coping strategy, liquor a medicine like aspirin.
Defined as consuming five or more drinks in a row, binge drinking is epidemic among college and high school students today. In a 1995 University of Michigan study, 30% of high school seniors reported binge drinking in the previous two-week period. Moreover, there is an alarming increase of new drinkers in the 12-17 age group.
According to MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), of the teens who admit they drink, more than 40% say they drink when they are upset, and 31% drink alone.
In "The Wedding Singer," abusing alcohol reaps short-term consequences--nausea and hangovers. But on a deeper level, binge drinking brings big emotional payoffs, warm fuzzies, romance and validation. When Robbie staggers home, for example, his sexy ex-girlfriend is waiting for him. "I can see that you're drunk," she coos, "and that's OK."
Similarly, when Julia gets drunk and vomits in her hair, Robbie draws near and tenderly assures her, "It smells good, actually." This shocking reversal quashes his previous advice ("alcohol equals puke," etc.).
Teenagers may conclude that adult warnings about alcohol are bogus and need not be taken seriously. On the contrary, the film demonstrates that people who abuse alcohol end up winners. Robbie and Julia are rewarded with true love. Julia's fiance staggers out of a bachelor party with a covey of stunning women.
Rock star Billy Idol helps overpower the villain after downing a bottle of champagne. Even the groom's drunken brother--with his tumbler of scotch and his bottle of Johnnie Walker Black Label--in the end attains a place in the limelight as the new wedding singer.
Johnnie Walker is not the only brand of alcohol shown in "The Wedding Singer." Heineken beer is featured and mentioned in the dialogue. Several neon beer logos glow prominently in the bar. It makes one wonder if liquor producers paid to advertise in this PG-13 film. If so, the movie's subliminal messages would certainly enhance the sales pitch.
Sandler stated in an interview that he and screenwriter Tim Herlihy had set out to make a "sweet" film. In many ways they succeeded.
However, "The Wedding Singer" belongs on the growing list of youth-oriented films that glamorize alcohol abuse.
There's nothing sweet about that.