Viking Night: Happy Gilmore
By Bruce Hall
December 10, 2013
So, you hate Adam Sandler? Well let's see YOUR hockey player golf tournament movie. It seems part of the problem with being a star is that once people like you, they want to see more of you. And they want you to do the same thing that made them like you in the first place, again and again and again and again. In fact, they want it so much that when you try to do anything else they will subject you to mockery and ridicule. So you crawl back into your pigeon hole and give them what they want - over and over again. It’s a profitable, symbiotic relationship that makes you rich and them happy. That is, right before they start to hate you for giving them exactly what they asked for.
Basically what I’m saying is that people suck, and (begin irony) I’m amazed Hollywood isn’t completely full of bitter, sociopathic drug fiends (end irony). But I guess that's the kind of pain that can only be soothed by piles and piles of money, which brings us back to Adam Sandler. Famous for his (seemingly) perpetual state of arrested development, one of his earliest attempts to translate that success from television to film was Happy Gilmore, a light hearted sports comedy that radiocarbon dating (and my rapidly failing memory) establishes as circa 1996. Younger readers will simply note that everyone still has a land line and all the televisions are incredibly huge.
Happy Gilmore (Sandler) is – shockingly – a dimwitted man-child whose only friend in life is his doting paternal grandmother (Frances Bay). Happy has always wanted to play professional hockey, but has had trouble finding success on account of the fact that he royally sucks at it. He can’t skate, doesn’t seem to understand the rules and is filled with a seething rage greater than Alec Baldwin on a three-day cappuccino binge. He also has a wicked slap shot, which, when applied to a golf club, translates into a 400-yard-long ball. In normal life this would have no practical application whatsoever. But when the IRS gives grandma 90 days to pay a quarter million dollars in back taxes, Happy needs to make some scratch – and fast.
Enter washed up ex-pro Chubbs Peterson (Carl Weathers), whose promising career was cut short by an alligator attack (I've always said golf was a death sport). Eager to redeem himself, Chubbs takes Happy under his wing. Together, they enter a professional golf tournament, which they win, because of course they do. But Happy’s success comes at the expense of world champion golfer and professional douchebag Shooter McGavin (Christopher McDonald), who makes it his mission in life to destroy this new competitor. Also, Happy's violent temper, snarky attitude and complete lack of physical nuance make him the Jay Cutler of the fairway, and this almost gets him kicked off the tour.
But thanks to his eccentric mentor and the Tour's opportunistic PR director/obligatory love interest (Julie Bowen), Happy gets a chance to refine his game and redeem his name (rhyming intentional). The only question is whether it'll happen in time to help Granny Gilmore (what do you think?). Of course the story – and the characters – couldn't be simpler, and whether or not you can get into it depends on your ability to tolerate juvenile humor, slapstick comedy, and rampant product placement. It also helps if you're in eighth grade. And let's not even talk about all the girls rocking high-waisted jeans and Hillary Clinton haircuts.
It was a different time.
Happy Gilmore is the kind of movie that critics tend to hate, because the rules with which we judge most movies are hard to apply here. Happy is an obnoxious character who never develops, and his success or failure depends, for the most part, less on his own growth and more on the intervention of other characters whose motives are at least partially selfish. Product placement can take you out of a movie (think Pierce Brosnan conspicuously turning a Smirnoff label toward the camera in his second outing as James Bond), and here you'll almost feel like a dirty whore just for watching. But for everything obvious and unimaginative about it, Happy Gilmore (in my humble opinion, anyway) also offers up something original and endearing.
Besides, how can you hate a guy who just wants to help his grandma? Like most comics, Sandler excels at expressing anger, but he also possesses an innate sweetness and vulnerability that many far better actors never will. And he's never ashamed to be the butt of his own jokes, which makes (some of) the bad ones easier to swallow. Not all the humor lands of course, but this trifle of a film doesn't ask much of you and it delivers on what it offers in consistent, easily digestible chunks. Throw in a hilariously evil antagonist, and appearances by Ben Stiller, Bob Barker, Will Sasso, Lee Trevino, Kevin Nealon and Abraham Lincoln, and how can you not be pleased?
And I have to admit, since most of the story takes place on a pro golf tour, the incredible level of corporate prostitution in this movie almost (emphasis: almost) fades into the background before it has a chance to piss you off entirely. Yes it's a bit much, but it also mostly fits into the context of the story. Mostly. Come on, it's not like (sarcasm on) there's an actual Subway commercial right in the middle of the movie or anything (sarcasm off).
Despite whatever shortcomings it may have, Happy Gilmore is a generally sweet, mostly funny, completely and delightfully stupid movie about an occasionally lovable moron who just wants to take some golf lessons from Apollo Creed so he can beat up Bob Barker and help a little old lady find a place to live. If you can't get on board with that, I say you are a heartless monster, and the terrorists have already won. And if you find it easy to hate on Sandler today, remember that it's only because long ago we all loved him a little too much, in movies just like this one.