I often struggle to think of my favourite films and usually fall back on classics such as Jaws, The Shawshank Redemption, Enter the Dragon, McVicar etc. Every so often, however, I remember to put Happy Gilmore firmly in my top ten and it really does deserve a place there!
Released in February 1996, Happy Gilmore is an Adam Sandler comedy that isn’t perhaps as crass as some of his other work. Sure, an orderly in an old folk’s home is clearly using the people there as slave labour and there is a recurring dream/nightmare sequence of a woman in saucy lingerie, but the movie has got a real heart to it. Even if you don’t like Sandler’s other work (and some dodgy films aside, the guy is seen as a comedy behemoth, certainly in America) the movie is something I defy anyone not to enjoy.
In the film, Happy Gilmore (Sandler) wants nothing more than to be a hockey player. Having been brought up by his ice hockey-loving father (who loved hockey so much his wife left and moved to Egypt “… where there isn’t a hockey rink in fifteen hundred miles”), Happy wants nothing more than to be a professional hockey player. He adored his father, who would tell him he could be anything he wanted to be, and they would attend hockey games together.
Unfortunately, one day, a horrific hockey-related incident means Happy is sent to live with his Grandma, who answers the door dressed as Gene Simmons from KISS just to cheer him up, and he adored her. After his father’s death, Happy has some anger issues and moves from job to job, including working construction where he accidentally shoots his boss in the head with a nail gun. Luckily, the boss is played by Richard “Jaws” Kiel and so he survives!
We see Happy attempting to qualify for ice hockey try-outs with his local team but due to his lack of coordination on the ice and his raging anger issues he is not accepted, even though the sheer force of his slap shot is admired, and he spirals into depression. Due to his lack of success and his hockey obsession, his girlfriend leaves him. Following a phone call, he races to his Grandma’s house and sees removal men taking furniture out of her house. He finds out that she hasn’t paid taxes for over a decade and now owes the government $270,000 in back taxes and that the house is being put up for sale.
Grandma is put into a nursing home and Happy gets into an argument with the removal men (he wants to watch TV and they are trying to take it away). After challenging him to hit a golf ball further than they did, using his grandfather’s clubs, they are left astounded when Happy launches the golf ball over 400m. They bet he can’t do it again, and he does, winning himself $40 and giving him the realisation that he could make money doing this. So, he heads to the nearest driving range and begins winning money from people by hitting the ball huge distances. Someone suggests he could enter a local competition and, with help from the club pro, Chubbs Peterson, he realises he could win some real money.
Chubbs, played by the legendary Carl Weathers, lost his hand during a tournament in Florida when a crocodile bit it off and so can’t play with the professionals any longer. He offers to mentor Happy and, after some discussion, the offer is taken up…
Obviously, we all know what will happen.
Happy will enter the tournament, have some initial success and them some trouble before finally winning and saving the day. Hurray! That’s not important. What matters is the journey. I’m aware I sound like an X-Factor contestant but it’s true! The first thing I’ll do is recommend you look up “hit a golf ball like Happy Gilmore” on YouTube because many people have tried and it looks fun! The film is filled with great characters, from the fans of Happy who have his name on their chests and can be seen chanting and swigging beer at the golf tournaments to the arrogant nemesis figure of rival golfer Shooter McGavin.
Shooter is the typical comedy movie bad guy; arrogant, narcissistic, only out for himself and not quite as smart as he likes to think he is. He is played by Christopher McDonald (you’ll recognise his face as he has 200+ IMDB credits) and treads that fine line between being a charming villain and someone you want to punch in the throat every time he speaks. He threatens to buy Grandma’s house and does his best to steal Happy’s potential new girlfriend (played by Julie Bowen, from Modern Family). The nightmare scenario daydreams Happy has of Shooter kissing his girl (and his gran!) are hilarious and corrupt the ‘go to your happy place’ advice that Chubbs gives him. As he becomes more and more frustrated and angry, and his chances of winning look slimmer, these visions become worse. It’s brilliantly done and McDonald clearly relishes being let of the leash and chews the scenery like nobody’s business.
Thankfully, of course, Shooter gets his comeuppance and is given a severe beating at the end of the movie after snatching Happy’s winning golden jacket and running off with it. Hurray!
It’s a movie full of stupid lines (“Damn you people! Go back to your shanties!”) and absurd situations (Happy gets hit by a car on the green at one point, driven by someone employed by Shooter, and gets back up and continues playing the round) and yet there is something so effortlessly charming about it that you’re just drawn in and the breezy 92-minute runtime races by. Sandler’s comedy style can be grating, certainly, and the adult man-boy persona a lot of his comedies focus on certainly became worn out and tired after a couple of movies and it’s why he went on to try some less comedic roles (with some success). However, in Happy Gilmore, the combination of script and his natural charisma and aptitude for slapstick combine into something that just works.
As the opening bars of Tuesday’s Gone by Lynyrd Skynyrd plays under the opening credits, Happy Gilmore invites you into a warm embrace that, despite featuring a one-eyed hand-eating crocodile and a man killed by a hockey puck, makes it one of the best feel-good comedies you’ll ever see.
“Be the ball…”
Happy Gilmore fun facts:
- The film made $40m from a $12m budget.
- The film had a rewrite by an uncredited Judd Apatow (who was Adam Sandler’s old roommate)
- The hockey player Happy mentions that he and his Dad loved, Terry O’Reilly, once jumped into the crowd at a hockey match to fight a fan!
- Sports Science magazine tested out Happy’s golf swing with a PGA Champion and found that it added a good 30 yards to his drives!
- Frances Bay, who played Grandma, was also in Seinfeld.
- Chubbs has a missing hand and Carl Weathers, who plays him, had his arm blown off in Predator; this is a tribute to that moment!
- Christopher McDonald (Shooter McGavin) claims to have had to have paid for a round of golf since starring in this movie.
- Talking of Shooter McGavin, Kevin Costner was offered the role but declined and Bruce Campbell auditioned for the part!
- Bob Barker, host of The Price Is Right in the US and the man who gets into a fight with Happy, said not a recording of that show went by without someone asking him about the film. He also studied karate under Chuck Norris and, when told he’d need a stunt man for his scene, told producers there was no need as “…I know how to fight.”
Sandler and Barker recreated the fight in 2015 for a charity event; it’s hilarious and well worth seeking out on YouTube.
- It won the first MTV award for Best Fight!
- Richard Kiel is always seen leaning on something or another cast member; this is due to a car crash in 1992 that resulted in head injuries and loss of balance.
- In 2013, the Fictitious Athlete Hall of Fame was formed. Inductees include Rocky Balboa, Mr Miyagi… and Happy Gilmore.
- The actor who played Happy’s young caddy at the Waterbury Open is now a Professor of Psychiatry.
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