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Drew Barrymore

     Talk about embarrassed pleasures. I saw The Wedding Singer at a matinee of giggly, giddy teenagers. They loved it. I actually liked it, finding it much funnier than such overpraised comedies as Wag the Dog and Deconstructing Harry, warmer and cuddlier than such humanist hokum as Good Will Hunting.

     Steve Buscemi and 80s rocker Billy Idol are hilarious in cameo parts, and even Adam Sandler started to fall into place for me. He has an unclassifiable, sleepy, slurry, sort-of-talent, a Jewish Jughead with a pinch of Stan Laurel. He was The Wedding Singer. But the reason I went to the movie at all (and skipped the important Tarkovskys at the Brattle) is to check out the female lead. I'm a long-time Drew Barrymore groupy.

     Shouldn't you be?

     If your warped constellation includes such shady types as Mary Magdalene, Lucretia Borgia, Tokyo Rose, Pam Smart, Heidi Fleiss, and the great Tanya Harding, then Drew's for you. Swear allegiance to what a friend of mine called, succinctly, "the dark Drew." All negative energy! The sharp-tongued, snotty, I-was-a-Teen Hussy-on-Rehab. The author at 14, after too many drugs and drinks and shaky disco nights, of the hard-luck bio, Little Girl Lost. The impertinent flasher on Letterman, unveiling her boobs - "Happy Birthday, Dave!" - while standing on his desk!

     Drew's bisexual, according to several fanzine Drew Websites. One Site offers tantalizing closeups of her myriad tattoos. The best, I think, is a stomach job: a butterfly sits pretty below her navel, above her low-on-the-hips jeans.

     Also, Drew's a survivor! She's been a wild girl forever, it seems, saying "Yes!" through the Reagan era, and yet she's only just 23. Happy birthday, February 22.

      But back to The Wedding Singer. Drew was fine, I admit, a perky little girfriend for Sandler. Yet this veteran Drew watcher felt uneasy. The "new Drew" for the millenium, for the masses, is sweet. She's kindly. Below her heaving bosom, she has a heart. She gets dewey-eyed with emotion.
She keeps her clothes on.

     And these un-Drew elements have been there for several movies in a row. Boys on the Side was sappy, and what a dull presence she was in Woody Allen's Everyone Says I Love You, playing a goody-goody New Yorker. Scream had possibilities, but she was killed off swiftly, before she could go bad. Or to bed.

     So what to do? Holding at bay the Barrymore blues, I opted for a Drew deluge, carrying home almost a dozen post-E.T. videos, many of which I'd never seen. I was curious to know: Could my championing of Drew be aesthetically justified? Or, smitten, have I been blinded to her career failings?

     A couch-slave week later, I'm sad to report that the latter is true. What a lot of fast-forwarding! What a crappy oeuvre! The Wedding Singer is at the top of her films!

     Here are some Drew Barrymore movies which are no fun at all: Cat's Eye (1985), Far From Home (1989), No Place to Hide (1992), Doppelganger: the Evil Within (1993), Bad Girls (1994), Batman Forever (1995).

     There's a tiny middle ground of OK road movies.

     In Guncrazy (1992), Drew goes American indie as a pistol-loving trailer park chick who hooks up with a paroled ex-con for a highway run of robbing and shooting. The film has cool moments, but Drew misses the homicidal charisma of Peggy Cummins in the original 1949 Gun Crazy, a "noir" masterwork.

     In the mild Mad Love (1995), Drew's manic-depressive teenager runs off with gentleboy Chris O'Donnell, luring him away from school in Seattle for a car ride into the Southwest. The story isn't much, but Drew shows she can act, playing some emotionally raw scenes in which she breaks down without her medication.

     You know about E.T. There are only two other Drew Barrymores which, though schlock genre movies, I heartily recommend:

     Firestarter (1984). Drew at eight commands the screen as a little girl with pyrokenetic powers. Don't get her mad! Burn, baby, burn! The Stephen King story is effectively anti-Washington (the bad guys doing dubious scientific experiments are CIA types), and there are great acting scenes pairing Drew and a nefarious George C.Scott with a pony tail.

     Poison Ivy (1992). If all Drew Barrymore movies could match this video-store rental favorite - such lurid, primal trash. Drew struts her A-level stuff as a haughty little tramp who seducer her best friend's father, plots to murder her best friend's mom. Nowhere has Drew been so uninhibitedly unwholesome, and the sex scenes with the middle-aged Tom Skerritt are smoldering soft-core. It's a tabloid Lolita, a Nabokov knockoff, and under-age Drew shows here the petulant range of a young Bette Davis.

     Oh, she's very very bad, my private Drew Barrymore!

GERALD PEARY
(February, 1998)

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