Save the Cat! Analysis Series: THE WEDDING SINGER (1998)

save the cat 10

One of the world’s most popular screenwriting books, Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat has brought clarity and a sense of direction to thousands of screenwriters, many of whom were looking for the logical extension of Syd Field’s work.

If you’re not familiar with it, the book delivered a structural screenwriting roadmap: not quite a full-blown join-the-dots guidebook, but in some ways, close.

With fully 15 story beats to hit over 90-120 pages Save the Cat gave writers both a well-lit pathway through those dark narrative woods and a way to quickly filter out the stories worth developing to full screenplay stage.

But how well do the theories hold up?

In Blake’s 2nd book, Save the Cat Goes to The Movies, he attempted to firm up and solidify his thesis, by analyzing various classic films.

And whilst this analysis proved for the most part effective, the doubters (largely, let’s face it, from the independent-slash-art-house sector of the industry) remain…

So whilst Snyder’s greatest gift to screenwriters probably remains the pithy maxim “give me the same, just different”, here at Industrial Scripts we thought we’d really stress-test the theories, against a range of films of varying quality.

“The pithy ‘give me the same just different’ remains Snyder’s greatest gift to screenwriters…”

If you’d like to view all the articles in our Save the Cat Analysis Series please do so at the link, and simply read on for the next instalment in the series!

 

Save the Cat Analysis Series #8: THE WEDDING SINGER (1998)

 

FILM:                          THE WEDDING SINGER
STORY TYPE:           Buddy Love (Rom-Com Love)
NOTES:                      This film matches the Snyder structure very closely. Aside from the structural similarities, THE WEDDING SINGER is also noticeable for several glaring “Save the Cat!” moments, in which Sandler is nice to fat kids, drunk kids and old ladies, in moments that otherwise contribute little to the story. The film is structurally formulaic: the Catalyst moment is clearly visible and fits the paradigm, as do the Debate and Midpoint sections. However The Break Into Act Two moment is probably the least clear-cut, and it is arguable that the hero changes very little over the course of the narrative: he begins idealistic and believing in love over material gain, and ends this way too. If anything, Drew Barrymore has the more pronounced character arc and changes the most, over the course of the film. Of Sandler’s comedies, THE WEDDING SINGER feels like one of the blandest, and this is because the hero doesn’t really undergo any kind of significant transformation. It’s in this area that the film diverts most from Snyder’s theorem, and it’s certainly the worse for it.

 

 

Save the Cat Analysis: THE WEDDING SINGER (1998)

 

  1. Opening Image (p. 1)

– Credits roll over happy people dancing at a wedding and ROBBIE (Adam Sandler) – the wedding singer – encouraging them to dance. This movie is about finding happiness so it’s appropriate that we open on joyous people. However the film’s opening and final images do contradict the Snyder theory in the sense that they should be opposites, when in fact they both feature happy, smiling people.

 

  1. Theme Stated (p. 5)

– “When you fall in love the emptiness just kindof drifts away”, Robbie tells the assembled audience. Ok, this sets up one of the main themes of this movie – namely love – but much of the film centres on a discussion surrounding materialism, and whether one should marry for love or security. This isn’t overtly conveyed in the opening 5 minutes, although Steve Buscemi’s rant about how his brother – the successful one – was always favoured by their parents does introduce the theme indirectly. Does one need to be successful professionally and materialistically to succeed in love?

 

  1. Set-Up (p. 1 – 10)

– Very Snyderian. Virtually all the main characters are introduced: Robbie, Julia, Holly, Sammy, and Rosie. The exceptions to this are the two main villains of the film: Glenn and Linda, who are introduced slightly later (Glenn doesn’t appear in person until minute 22). The opening 10 minutes are also notable for utterly transparent “Save the Cat!” moments, in which Robbie a) saves the wedding from Buscemi’s offensive ranting, and b) helps a drunk kid puke in a dumpster.

 

  1. Catalyst (p. 12)

– 16 minutes in Robbie is jilted at the altar, and this is fits the Snyder paradigm exactly – “the telegram, the knock at the door, the act of catching your wife in bed with another – something that is done to the hero to shake him. It’s the movie’s first whammy”. And as “whammy’s” go, being jilted at the altar is about as big as it gets.

 

  1. Debate (p. 12 – 25)

– Robbie spends 5 days holed up in his basement, and tells Sammy – “I’ve got nothing to offer anybody, I haven’t done jack-shit since high school. Why would any girl ever marry me?” Can the hero drag himself back into the game? He struggles big-time at his next singing gig, and it’s clear that he very much doubts his ability to complete the journey in front of him. “Y’know some of us will never ever find true love, like, for instance, me”, he tells the bemused wedding-goers. Matches the Snyder prototype exactly.

 

  1. Break into Act Two (p. 25)

– Robbie is down and out in a trash can having been beaten up by the wedding guests. But he decides to drag himself out of the gutter. He then decides to go to Julia and Glenn’s engagement party, which is his first step on the road to rehabilitation. Although this moment doesn’t arrive until 31 minutes in and, as second act breaks go, isn’t particularly clear-cut, it still does represent a moment in which “the hero makes a choice – and his journey begins”. Robbie could have stayed at home, missed the party, and continued to mope around, after all.

 

  1. B Story (p. 30)

– “It’s a shame you won’t be doing any weddings anymore, we won’t get the chance to hang out as much”, Julia tells Robbie. Although they’ve spoken earlier, this is the first real chat Julia and Robbie have had, and the fact that some of their discussion is dedicated towards how they can spend more time together is flirtatious and the first, very slight sign of romance. This moment occurs on minute 37.

 

  1. Fun and Games (p. 30 – 55)

– On minute 38 the writers throw in another glaringly obvious “Save the Cat!” moment, which is pretty irrelevant to the plot, as Robbie plucks a fat depressed kid from the crowd and makes him feel good about himself by arranging for him to dance with Julia. This section of THE WEDDING SINGER very much fits the Snyder structure, in that here the hero uses his “skills” (ie. his local knowledge) to gradually attract the affection of Julia, by helping her to organise her wedding. This section also involves “fun set pieces” (Snyder), such as the sing-off between Robbie and the other local wedding singer, the scene where Robbie haggles with the wedding photographer on behalf of Julia, and a montage sequence of the characters trying wedding cake and Sammy auditioning to be the limo driver. This section is one long date, basically, where the hero gets to show off his skills (ie. haggling, singing, displaying sensitivity and humour). It’s also noticeable for a “set-up” that “pays-off” later on, when Robbie reflects on his time with Linda and realises that maybe a sign that she wasn’t “the one” occurred when they flew to the Grand Canyon, and she wouldn’t give him the window seat. Later on, this “pays off” when Julia “tests” Glenn when they fly to Vegas. “I agree that it’s the little things that count”, says Julia to Robbie. Overall, this section does match the Snyder paradigm.

 

  1. Midpoint (p. 55)

– The Midpoint of this film is quite well signposted, as Julia and Robbie are “forced” to kiss by Holly. This is the moment when they both realise that they feel something for each other, and is a noticeably “up” Midpoint (although the writer counterbalances this euphoria by having Glenn appear straight afterwards). This occurs 54 minutes in.

 

  1. Bad Guys Close In (p. 55 -75)

– The couples go on a double-date, but it’s not a good one, particularly for Robbie in that his enemies really show their face in this section. His first (interpersonal) enemy is Glenn, who shows his true colours by boasting about his cheating. His second enemy is a more significant foe: his situation (external conflict). “It’s not important to some people”, Holly says about being secure financially, “it’s important to all people”. “Well I guess I’m in big trouble then”, says a downcast Robbie, as his lack of money or job security is brought to the forefront.

 

  1. All is Lost (p. 75)

– Robbie comes back from an awful rejection by the bank (aka. materialistic society) and he’s never doubted his path more. “There’s a lot of money out there”, he says, “and I’m just trying to get my hands on it”. “You’re above all that materialistic bullshit” counters Julia, but then Robbie accuses Julia of marrying Glenn for money, and she storms off, throwing the present she was going to give him (music sheets) everywhere. “I am an asshole”, Robbie admits after she’s gone. Occurs 68 minutes in.

 

  1. Dark Night of The Soul (p. 75 – 85)

– A dark period for Robbie, as he gets drunk a lot, and discards his romantic notions in favour of being a player, who uses women and abandons them. However Sammy darkens the mood further by showing Robbie how things really are on the player side of the fence – he’s miserable, and lonely. Worse is to come though – Robbie can’t bring himself to tell Julia how he really feels, so goes to get drunk again, and then gets beaten up by Glenn. Then, he momentarily allows Linda back into his life, and this appears to cause the death knell for him and Julia, as she decides to…

 

  1. Break into Act Three (p. 85)

– Marry Glenn in Vegas (minute 83). This decision is the kick up the backside Robbie needs, and the “hero choosing to fight for what he wants” moment, as Robbie eventually gets on the same flight as Julia and Glenn. Robbie uses his natural charm to get those in first class on-side, who end up helping him to “defeat” Glenn by blocking him in the aircraft toilet.

 

  1. Finale (p. 85 – 110)

– “I wanna grow old with you” Robbie sings to Julia, and they at last tell each other that they love one another. Julia has learnt to choose true love over material excellence, but what has Robbie learnt? Has he really noticeably changed? Not really. This is one of the major flaws of the film, and an area in which it noticeably diverts from the Snyder pathway…

 

  1. Final Image (p. 110)

– Robbie and Julia getting married, and we end on a still image of them smiling at each other as confetti rains down around them. As suggested earlier, this isn’t the inverse of the opening image, and is really just a repeat-show.

 

 

Scene-by-Scene Breakdown: THE WEDDING SINGER (1998)

 

  1. Credits roll over happy people dancing at a wedding and ROBBIE (Adam Sandler) – the wedding singer – encouraging them to dance.
  2. Title card tells us that we’re in Ridgefield Banquet Hall, in 1985. The groom’s brother DAVID (Steve Buscemi) comes crashing onto the stage, drunk. He makes an embarrassing speech revealing the jealousy he’s always felt towards his brother, and also recalling the time they picked up some hookers in Puerto Rico. Robbie intervenes, grabbing the mike off David and cutting the speech short. Robbie then makes a moving speech about love and commitment, which restores the natural atmosphere to the room. He also reveals that he’s due to get married himself next week. A drunk and remorseful David quips: “he’s a good wedding singer”.
  3. A transvestite band member then takes over from Robbie, and he goes to the bar where the limo driver is eyeing up a waitress, JULIA (Drew Barrymore).
  4. We follow the flustered waitress into the kitchen, where she moans to HOLLY (Christine Taylor) about how her fiancée, GLENN, still hasn’t set a date for their wedding yet. Holly tells Christine that she should take a break out back…
  5. Meanwhile, Robbie sees a young kid about to puke, and takes him out the back to vomit. There he meets Julia, and they get to talking. She’s due to be waitressing at his wedding next week, and he notices her ring too. She explains that she’s not too sure how serious the guy she’s due to be marrying is. Robbie is called back in as the crowd’s now turning on his transvestite band mate.
  6. Cut to Robbie and ROSIE (an old lady) discussing his wedding tomorrow – he’s not nervous. “You’re gonna be a fine husband”, says Rosie.
  7. The day of Robbie’s wedding. Julia’s mother drops her off at the venue and tells her she needs to get married before she starts losing her looks. She also recommends Julia “start considering a fake pregnancy”, to hurry things up with Glenn.
  8. Robbie waits around on stage for his bride, LINDA, to arrive. However word reaches him that Linda is “not coming today”. Robbie is absolutely devastated – he walks off and smashes a mirror in anger…
  9. Cut to Robbie later that day, insisting that he and Linda are going to get back together.
  10. Robbie sits on the porch, when Linda arrives and says that she’s sorry, she just couldn’t do it, she “never wants to marry him”. She goes on to explain that she’s in love with Robbie from six years ago, when he was the lead singer in a band. She doesn’t want to marry a lowly wedding singer, and doesn’t want to stay in the area for the rest of her life. Robbie insists that he still loves her and wants to marry her, but she just walks away…
  11. Cut to Julia being presented with flowers by Glenn. He reveals that he’s set a date for the wedding, and bought them two tickets to Vegas, where he wants it held. However after she looks slightly disappointed, he realises that to make her happy they’ll have to marry in Ridgefield, and she’s delighted.
  12. Robbie’s best friend SAMMY comes over and we learn that since the split Robbie hasn’t left the basement in 5 days. His best friend reminds Robbie that they’ve got a wedding to play that night, where they’ll be loads of drunk girls, but Robbie can’t summon any real enthusiasm.
  13. At the wedding that night Robbie performs really badly, and is close to tears throughout. He’s heckled by the crowd, and launches into a rant. “This thing they call love is gonna make you cry!” sings Robbie, in a song entitled “Love Stinks”. The song ends after he’s attacked by some of the wedding guests.
  14. Later Julia finds Robbie in a dumpster out the back. He’s very depressed, and is going to give up being a wedding singer. Julia tells him that she’s having an engagement party in two weeks, and that she really wants him to come, but he just trudges off, despondent.
  15. The night before the party Robbie goes to baby-sit his nephews, who take the piss out of him for being “in the middle of a nervous breakdown”.
  16. Robbie’s brother-in-law tries to reassure him that everything will be ok, but he ends up failing spectacularly.
  17. The night of the engagement party. Julia tries to persuade Glenn to organise the wedding with her, but he’d rather leave her to it. We also learn that Glenn’s bachelor party is set for the night before the wedding. Robbie and Julia chat and get on well.
  18. Soon afterwards Robbie sings at a wedding, and is nice to a fat kid, setting it up so that Julia dances with him.
  19. Afterwards Julia asks Robbie to help her organise her own wedding, and although he resists initially, she eventually wins him round.
  20. Robbie and Julia go to see a woman about wedding photographs, and she assumes they’re a couple and says how confident she is that they’re going to make it, because they look so happy together. They have to correct her, but the chemistry is obvious.
  21. In the next scene they see a prospective wedding singer, who reveals that his business has tripled since Robbie retired. Julia isn’t remotely impressed, however, and doesn’t hire the other guy anyway. After he’s gone, Robbie tells Julia that he wanted to be a songwriter, but it never came off. She persuades him to play her something he wrote recently though, but it’s horribly uneven (he wrote one half when he was happy with Linda, and one half afterwards when he’s heartbroken). Julia says that she likes it, however.
  22. Afterwards they go for milkshakes, and continue to get on well.
  23. Montage sequence of the preparations for the wedding, with the main characters trying different cakes etc.
  24. In the limo afterwards, Sammy accuses him of falling for Julia but he rejects this angrily.
  25. The next day Robbie pops round to Julia’s and drops her jacket off that she left in the limo. Julia and Holly are having a discussion over whether a kiss in church on a wedding day should involve tongues or not. Holly suggests that Julia “practise” for her day on Robbie. They kiss and it turns into a semi-snog, but Robbie turns up straight afterwards. Robbie leaves, and the girls reflect on how cute he is, and Holly ponders whether to date him. Although Julia gets a little funny about this, she says that it’s fine for Holly to date him. She proposes that the four of them go on a double-date…
  26. The date is awkward from the start, with the couples mismatched and Glenn and Robbie polar opposites. When the girls go to the bathroom Glenn reveals that he cheats on Julia, who’s too preoccupied with the wedding to notice. Glenn makes it clear that he intends to cheat on Julia when they’re married, too. Holly comes back and explains that Julia is about to vomit, and they need to leave. The couples leave the club separately.
  27. Robbie walks Holly home, they kiss, and she more or less lays it on a plate for him. However he keeps asking about Julia, and Holly realises that Robbie in fact fancies Julia, and not her. He denies it strenuously, however. Holly then explains that Julia is marrying Glenn for the money, and the security. “I guess that’s important to some people”, says Robbie. “No, it’s important to all people”, replies Holly.
  28. The next morning Julia is very hung-over. Holly tells her about her kiss with Robbie, and also reveals that Robbie thinks Glenn is a “jerk off”. The girls then discuss why Julia is marrying Glenn – is it for love, or security, or both? This is the first time Julia seems to intimate that she doesn’t really love Glenn.
  29. Julia tries to find Robbie, but is informed by Rosie that Robbie has gone off to the city to find a “proper job”.
  30. Cut to Robbie being interviewed for a job in the bank. This goes disastrously, however, and Robbie marched out of the bank.
  31. Robbie returns home to find Julia waiting for him on his porch. They talk about the need to earn money, but Julia tells him that he’s “above all that material bullshit”. Robbie replies that “it’s a material world”, and accuses Julia of “marrying Glenn because he’s got money”. Julia storms off, throwing a load of paper in the air as she goes. Robbie collects the paper, and realises it was a present from Julia – blank sheets for him to write music on.
  32. Robbie sits in a bar drinking on his own. Sammy meets up with him, and he confesses that he thinks he’s in love with Julia, but can’t bring himself to tell Julia about Glenn’s cheating ways. Robbie vows to be a player in future, not getting emotionally attached to women. That’s the key to being happy, he says. However his best friend reveals that he’s not happy being single – in fact, he’s miserable. “All I really want, is someone to hold me”, he says. “If you’ve found someone you can love, you can’t let it get away”. Robbie knows what he has to do…
  33. Julia confides in her mother that she’s not sure if she’s in love with Glenn anymore. She also tells her mother about Robbie, and she’s incredulous: “you’re thinking of leaving Glenn for The Wedding Singer?” Her mother just passes this off as the jitters, and tries to reassure Julia that she’s doing the right thing. After her mother’s gone, Julia practises for her big day, trying her name alongside both Glenn and Robbie’s.
  34. Meanwhile Robbie approaches, intending to tell her how much he loves her. He sees her in the window faux-smiling and looking happy (even though she’s miserable) and turns away – he doesn’t want to spoil her special day.
  35. “She just looked way too happy, I couldn’t do it” Robbie tells his best friend in the bar. Robbie’s brought a bottle of alcohol with him, so they go out into the alley to drink it and run into Glenn on his bachelor party, with some girls. “You should stop all this cheating bullshit”, Robbie tells Glenn, and Glenn warns him not to go “snitching” to Julia about it. “She’d rather go to bed with a real man than some kind of singing orphan” sneers Glenn, before punching Robbie to the floor.
  36. Robbie returns home, drunk, to find his ex Linda, waiting for him. She tells him that she wants him back. He passes out.
  37. The next day Julia comes to see Robbie, and Linda answers the door. This gives Julia a real shock. She asks to see Robbie, but Linda replies that he’s “indisposed”. Julia leaves, despondent, and Linda never passes on the message.
  38. Linda goes back inside and wakes Robbie up, but he’s stunned to see her and can’t remember the night before. She explains that she’s “learned to deal with the fact” that Robbie “isn’t a rockstar”, and this really annoys him. He kicks her out, calling her a “psycho”.
  39. Across town Julia wakes up Glenn, and tells him that she doesn’t want a big wedding, and that they can go to Vegas instead. He’s thrilled.
  40. Intercut between Rosie’s 50th wedding anniversary, where Robbie looks on thoughtfully, and Julia at the airport, waiting to fly to Vegas.
  41. Robbie decides that he has to try and win Julia, but as he leaves Rosie’s anniversary he runs into Holly, who tells him that Julia came to the house and saw Linda in her underwear, and was so upset she decided to get married quickly in Vegas.
  42. Robbie, his best friend and Holly set off for the airport. Robbie manages to get the last seat on a flight to Vegas.
  43. Meanwhile, on their flight, Glenn illustrates his selfishness by refusing to let Julia sit in the window seat.
  44. Intercut between the two flights – Glenn enjoying his window seat, whilst Robbie regales his fellow passengers in first class with his plans to stop Glenn and Julia’s wedding. On Robbie’s flight, an air hostess then runs through telling them how a guy dressed in Miami Vice fashion just offered to help her join the mile high club. Robbie instantly knows, it’s Glenn…and asks his fellow passengers, including BILLY IDOL, to help him.
  45. Billy Idol comes onto the microphone, and explains that one of the first-class passengers on the plane (ie. Robbie) is going to sing a song about one of the coach-class passengers on the plane (ie. Julia). As Robbie sings, Julia realises that it’s him, and starts crying. Robbie then emerges from behind the curtain, and Julia is very happy. Glenn then wakes from his slumber, and tries to approach Robbie but is blocked by Billy Idol (and others).
  46. Robbie finishes his song and confesses and tells Julia that he loves her, and she replies in kind. They kiss, and Billy Idol tells Robbie that he’s going to tell some record company executives about Robbie.
  47. Cut to Robbie and Julia getting married, and we end on a still image of them smiling at each other as confetti rains down around them.

 

  • Did you enjoy this post? Why not check out our analysis of HEAVEN CAN WAIT?
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