Happy Gilmore (1996)

Starring: Adam Sandler, Christopher McDonald, Julie Bowen, Carl Weathers, Frances Bay, Ben Stiller, Allen Covert, Kevin Nealon, Richard Kiel, Bob Barker, Dennis Dugan, Joe Flaherty, Robert Smigel, and Will Sasso, with Lee Trevino and Mark Lye
Grade: Classic

Happy Gilmore is a prime example as to why Adam Sandler was untouchable for so many years.


Through home video footage and a narration, Happy Gilmore (Sandler) explains that he has loved hocky since he was a child, though he was never the greatest skater. His hocky-obsessed dad still taught him how to hit a great slapshot though. Sadly, their mom left them for Egypt because Happy’s father was so fixated on the sport. This didn’t seem to stop Happy or his dad, with Happy’s father regularly taking him to games to see their favorite player, Terry O’Reilly. He was known as “The Tasmanian Devil” because he feared nobody, just like Happy. All of this inspired him to pursue a career in hockey. During a random game, Happy’s dad is hit by a puck and dies, so he’s sent to live with Grandma (Bay) in Waterbury. As he continued to grow up without his dad, he started to become known for his short temper. During high school, he played junior hockey, and he still holds two league records. One is for most time spent in a penalty box, and the other is that he was the only guy to ever take off his skate and try to stab somebody. Following graduation, he held jobs as a road worker, a janitor, a security guard, a gas station attendant, a plumber, and in construction. The last job ended after Happy accidentally shot his boss Mr. Larson (Kiel) in the head with a nail gun while he was messing around. Not only did he lose that job, but Larson beat the hell out of him and sent him to the hospital. Regardless, Happy knew he was only destined for one thing, and that’s hockey.

At another hockey tryout, Happy tries his absolute hardest and plays as aggressively as possible. At the same time, the team executives watch while noting privately how Happy has tried out at least ten times already. They can see his intensity, but Happy still isn’t a great skater or puck handler. He can smack the hell out of the puck though, breaking the glass with one of his shots after missing the goal by a wide margin. Unfortunately, Happy doesn’t make the team again. After a snide comment from the coach, Happy ends up beating the hell out of him and a few of the players before he’s wrestled to the ground. That night, he gets to his apartment, but his girlfriend and kindergarten teacher Terry (Nancy Hillis) is just leaving. In fact, she’s breaking up with him because he’s going nowhere in life. He tries to convince her to stay by talking through the call-in button once she’s outside, but his anger gets the best of him following her responses. He sings Exile’s “Kiss You All Over” through the button and attracts the attention of a few people walking by, including some old Asian woman. She ends up being the one to open his door, so Happy has sex with her instead. The next morning, Happy gets a phone call from Grandma and heads out to go see her immediately. He pulls up to see a majority of her things being repossessed. An IRS agent (Smigel) tells Happy that Grandma hasn’t paid taxes in over a decade. They’re taking everything and the house. Happy tries to plead with the guy, saying that his grandfather built the house with his bare hands, and she’s been living there for over 60 years. However, the IRS agent explains that she owes $270,000 in back taxes. If Happy can’t get the money together in 90 days, they’re going to have to sell the house to someone else.

Naturally, Happy sends the IRS agent through the front door as a response.

Sometime after, Happy drives Grandma to Silver Acres Rest Home since she turned down his offer to live with him because she didn’t want to be a burden. He promises her he will figure out a way to make the money and get the house back, calming her down before he leaves. They are interrupted by the orderly running the place in Hal (Stiller), who enters to tell Grandma it’s nap time. On the way out, Happy asks for him to take extra care of her while he’s gone by trying to bribe him with a single dollar. Hal can’t accept it but promises he will. After Happy exits though, Hal reveals himself to be a tyrant of the rest home and demands Grandma go to sleep because she’s in his world now. Back at Grandma’s home, the movers (Sasso and Dee Jay Jackson) take a break and make bets on how far they can hit a golf ball past the tree. Happy comes out of the house yelling at the two because he wants them to get done working, so he can watch the hockey game. They ignore him, and the one mover misses the shot. After Happy makes fun of him, the guy challenges Happy to hit one past his shot. If he does, they’ll get back to work. Despite not being the “golfing type”, he smacks the ball 400 yards with ease and breaks a window of a house. They’re amazed while Happy couldn’t care less. Passing it off as beginner’s luck, the other mover challenges him to do it again for another $20. Happy does it again, hitting the owner of the house once he walked outside. Refusing to give up, the mover challenges him again. This time it’s double or nothing. With ease, Happy smashes another and it hits the guy’s wife in the head, prompting her to fall out of the broken window, off the roof, and to the ground. Before they all run inside to hide, the mover pays Happy what he’s owed.

Of course, this becomes Happy’s “light bulb” moment.

Happy goes to the driving range and takes on bets from everyone near him to make some extra cash. After smashing each ball, former golfer and coach Chubbs Peterson (Weathers) sees Happy’s drive from afar while lazily coaching some woman, and he can’t believe Happy’s raw talent. Another golfer suggests Happy play in the Waterbury Open the next day, despite his inexperience, but Happy has no interest. Chubbs has other plans though. He thinks Happy can actually win the thing. Afterwards, Happy is in the batting cages. Instead of hitting the baseballs though, he stands in front and takes each baseball in the chest and face to toughen himself up in preparation for next year’s hockey tryouts. Chubbs interrupts while watching this maniac operate. After Happy explains what he’s doing when Chubbs asks, Chubbs tells him he needs to concentrate on golf and unplugs the machine. He offers to coach Happy for free, but he refuses because he has no idea who Chubbs is. Chubbs explains that in 1965, Sports Illustrated said he was going to be the next Arnold Palmer. Sadly, they wouldn’t let him play the pro tour anymore because an alligator bit his hand off in a tournament in Florida. He hooked his ball in a rough down by the lake, and the alligator popped up and chomped off his hand in the middle of his prime. He tore one of their eye’s out though, and he keeps it on him in a jar for some reason. Going on, Chubbs admits he’s never seen someone hit the ball half as far as Happy can, and he has a real shot at making the pro tour. All he has to do is win the Waterbury Open the next day, and he’s automatically in. After talking about potentially winning tour championships or even a gold jacket someday, Happy ignores this as he practices with his hockey stick in the parking lot. This leads him to accidentally knocking off Chubbs’s wooden prosthetic hand into the road, and it gets run over and broken by a truck.

Happy apologizes but gets in his car to leave. Just as he’s about to drive off, he hears Chubbs mentioning of making the “big bucks”, so he stops the car, remembering the situation Grandma is in. Now, he’s in.

At the Waterbury Open and sporting his Boston Bruins jersey, Happy and Chubbs scope out the area. This is where Chubbs points out two key figures to keep his eye on in president of the tour Doug Thompson (Dugan) and the leading money winner this year and famous pro golfer in Shooter McGavin (McDonald). Alongside them is Virgina Venit (Bowen), Director of Public Relations for the tour. She greets Shooter, but he brushes her off and asks her to get him a Diet Pepsi.

Obvious product placement aside, who the fuck asks for a Diet Pepsi?

Following a cheesy speech from Shooter who’s there as a spectator, the Waterbury Open begins. To start things off, Happy and another golfer prepare to tee off. Before this though, Happy attacks his own caddy after mistaking him for a robber, so he apologizes and decides to carry his clubs instead. He just asks for the caddy to step in if he does something stupid. The other golfer goes first and hits a solid shot. Next, it’s Happy’s turn. He misses contact with the ball on his first try and he’s already frustrated, though he relaxes once Chubbs eases the tension with him on a timeout. This allows him for him to nail the ball on the second try, prompting everyone to take notice. This includes Virginia and Shooter, as the ball is on the green and near the hole. All Happy has to worry about now is putting. Unfortunately, he’s awful at it and it costs him a few strokes, though he eventually gets it in. Right after, he approaches a crowd member who was talking shit, pulls his shirt off, and lays him out with a punch. Later in the tour, Happy gets a hole-in-one on a par four, and he tells Chubbs that getting a hole-in-one is much easier than putting, so he’ll just try to do that every time. After they walk away, Virginia stands with Shooter and is amazed at Happy’s skills. She hopes for him to win and calls him a publicist’s dream, as his ability to drive the ball that far could really draw a crowd. Shooter is visibly bothered by the attention Happy is getting.

Happy continues to kick ass on his drives and it evens out his terrible putting skills. Eventually, he gets to a point where he needs four or less shots to win the tournament. In exactly four shots, he’s just able to win, with him reminding himself about Grandma being the main factor. Seeing Happy’s antics after winning, Shooter is not happy.

Afterwards, Virginia approaches Happy and introduces herself to him. Though he didn’t win any money for this tournament, she tells him that the following tournament in Portland next week has a money prize of $216,000. The guy who comes in last place gets $2,400 too, so either way he’s making money. Once she leaves, Happy sits with Chubbs, who advises him to put off the pro tour for a while to hone his craft. All he needs is six months, and he’ll work with Happy every day. Though Happy appreciates his coaching, he needs the money now, so he turns Chubbs down. Following this, Happy takes his trophy to the rest home to see Grandma. Unbeknownst to him, Hal is running the place like a sweat shop and forcing the elderly residents to make quilts, so he can sell them over the phone. When one older woman complains of her fingers hurting, he sends her to do landscaping duty. Just as Happy enters the room, Hal changes his evil tune in an instant to act like everything is cool. As Happy and Grandma hug, Hal mimes threats towards Grandma to not say anything, so she acts like everything is going well. Happy talks with Grandma in her room for a bit, and he talks about how close he is to getting the house back for her. This is a sigh of relief for her, as Grandma talks about how badly she wants to leave. Happy is confused because he thought Hal and the environment has been friendly enough to her, prompting Grandma to quickly lie once she sees Hal mime more threats from a different room. She says it’s just because the air conditioner is broken, so Happy tries to fix it. Unfortunately, it falls out of the window and onto someone.

Later, Happy goes to a welcoming event for the Pro Golf Tour and approaches Shooter and some other golf superstars like Mark Lye, who gives him props for the ace he had on the par four. Everyone in the group has the coveted gold jacket for winning the tour championship, the biggest tour of the year. After Happy inadvertently pisses off Shooter by asking why he doesn’t have a gold jacket, Shooter invites him to dress nice and meet the group out on the green at 9PM that night. Thinking it to be a friendly gesture, Happy shows up on time. Sadly, it was just a prank. The sprinklers on the green turn on at 9PM, and they get a frustrated Happy soaking wet. He asks Virginia if she’s seen Shooter because he’s going to kick his ass. She convinces him not too because the new guy beating up Shooter McGavin would create more work for her, as she’s the one who has to explain this to the press. They flirt a little bit, but she tells him to get some sleep for the big day tomorrow. Now, it’s the 22nd Annual AT&T Invitational. Shooter is the favorite to win, as he’s won 3 of the last 4. Happy arrives and some homeless guy (Covert) starts washing the windshield of his car, though he’s immediately arrested by a cop. Happy goes to check-in and is given the news that he has to provide his own caddy for the pro tour, which he didn’t know. As a response, he hires the homeless guy to do it. After meeting fellow pro golfer Gary Potter (Nealon) who encourages him, Happy goes to tee off. He misses horribly though and cusses up a storm on national television. The next shot he nails though, and it gets him up close and personal to the hole. After putting it in, he goes crazy in celebration, yelling into the camera and such.

Of course, this gets the attention of Doug Thompson, and he’s not happy. The first thing he does is call Virginia into his office. Meanwhile, Happy continues his antics and starts to draw a massive crowd, though Shooter is leading in the standings.

While on the last hole, Happy misses an easy put and flips out. He grabs the flag and sends it flying, and it knocks a camera man off a ledge. After he continues to rant and yell obscenities, Doug tells Viriginia to prepare a press release about Happy’s removal from the tour. She argues that golf needs someone like this to attract crowds. In fact, she got a call from the Dallas Open, and they have been getting calls everywhere from people who want to see Happy. They sold out because of it. She offers to work with him to clean things up. Though Doug isn’t too excited about it, he gives her a chance but makes him her responsibility. Shooter wins the tour and the grand prize (with Happy finishing last), but he starts to get pissed because all of the questions at the press conference are about Happy. That night at the bar, Shooter approaches Happy and tries to blow smoke up his ass, but Happy isn’t having it and threatens him. Happy makes it clear that he was only here for money, but now he just wants to kick Shooter’s ass. Shooter dares him to try, so Happy breaks a beer bottle and holds it to him. Of course, Shooter meant on the golf course and not in a real fight, so he’s a bit freaked. Virginia gets in the middle of them, so Happy calms down and Shooter leaves. Privately, Virginia tells Happy that he has to tone down his behavior. Otherwise, he will be kicked off the tour. He can be a big star if he stays on the tour and make some serious money, but he needs to behave a little. He agrees to chill out a little and tries asking her out afterwards, but she changes the subject.

As each tournament goes by, Happy really does start to become a star and makes some serious money, but lying in the wake is the devious and extremely jealous Shooter, who is going to try everything possible to stop him. Eventually, it starts to get personal.

My Thoughts:

There’s a lot of people that hate on Adam Sandler and his brand of humor, but Cinema Loco is not one of them. We have been “Team Sandler” from day one, and it all started with Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore. Though I love Billy Madison, I can see why some could take issue with certain elements of it and its unconventional style in terms of character building and plot development. However, this does not apply to Happy Gilmore, as I would put it up against any of the funniest comedies ever made. Sure, fans of Happy Madison Productions may notice that recent fare isn’t as great as what it used to be, but there’s a reason that Adam Sandler got to where he is now and became the bona fide superstar he is. Movies like Happy Gilmore solidified his place in Hollywood as one of the most popular actors of the late 90s and 2000s. With an off-the-wall concept, absurd humor, a heartwarming core, a great cast, a little romance, and a valiant star at the helm, this is a comedy that will always be on the list of “Greatest Sports Films of All Time”. Just like Caddyshack made golf cool all those years back with its all-star cast, sophomoric humor, and some of the most memorable quotes and moments in cinematic history, Adam Sandler does the same thing almost single handedly sixteen years later, while updating the humor for the modern age.

Seriously, the sport of golf owes a lot to these two movies.

If you’ve seen enough films, a lot tend to blend together because of how similar some can be. When something is truly creative though, it stands out above the rest. Happy Gilmore is one of these movies, as the premise is such a wildly entertaining, jackpot of an idea. Let’s take an overly aggressive hockey player and turn him into a golf superstar by translating his powerful slapshot into a 400-yard drive. It makes sense that someone with this ability could pull off a long drive, right? If all he has to work on is his putting game, Happy’s career trajectory as an out-of-nowhere golf superstar isn’t too far-fetched. If anything, it’s an easy way to hook us into the world-building of the screenplay and how quick the pace of the movie moves at. Arguably, it’s also respectful to the sport because it does stress the importance of putting and actually shows us the significance of minigolf when we just thought it was a good birthday party idea, albeit in a comedic manner (“You’re gonna die clown!”). What makes things even better is the personality of our main character. Critics have argued a lot about Sandler playing unlikable characters in the earlier part of his career because of his manchild antics and penchant for flipping out. However, I will always argue that if you’re funny enough, you can get away with annoying or dick-ish personality traits. This is the case with movies like Billy Madison and a lot of early Chevy Chase and Bill Murray stuff. Even so, Adam Sandler’s performance as Happy Gilmore isn’t on the written-to-be-unlikable level of Billy Madison, as he does have a sweetness to his core that balances his signature anger out. If anything, a movie like this started to show the transition of Sandler’s characters in future films, as most of his characters following these earlier films abandoned his old persona, and he turned into a likable “everyman” for almost the rest of his career.

With this being said, I loved the old Sandler. It’s what made me such a fan. The outlandishness, the yelling, the fighting, and the energy of someone in their 20s doing anything and everything to prove himself on film and in the comedy game was infectious. His earlier “crazy” stuff reminds me a lot about how Eddie Murphy and Jim Carrey approached stardom early on, along with what they turned into in the later stages of their careers as well.

Let’s be honest with ourselves, this film is believable in showing the connection between a larger-than-life, loudmouth, short-tempered superstar like Happy Gilmore and how he could bring in a whole different demographic to golf consisting of younger crowds, partiers, and hillbilly trash. Honestly, they’re right. If at any time a real golf star would go on a rant to cuss out his ball on live television and fight some guy in the crowd for a snide remark, most of us non-purists of the sport would be cheering it on. It would indeed attract new “youthful sponsors”. There’s not a single doubt in my mind. Anytime there’s an over-the-top personality in any sport, they get attention worldwide whether we like the person or not (See Conor McGregor or Draymond Green for examples). It’s a guarantee. Just like sex, craziness also sells. In fact, the legacy of Happy Gilmore amongst mainstream audiences and how it helped skyrocket the career of Adam Sandler proves it. The career of the character of Happy Gilmore and star Adam Sandler will always be linked and for good reason. If you wonder why the comic actor is still so popular today even if you have gotten tired of him, the second act of Happy Gilmore foreshadows why he will always be popular. He understands what’s funny to this section of America, the majority. This isn’t a knock on Sandler appealing to what some critics may call the “idiots” of our country because I’m one of them, which is why I’ll always defend him. The real question is how can you hate a movie like this? Why do people call it stupid? It’s objectively hysterical, with too many laugh-out-loud gags, jokes, and moments to count.

From getting into a fight with Bob Barker and losing in one of the greatest fight scenes of all time (“Damn it. I hate that Bob Barker”) to Shooter McGavin’s interactions with Mr. Larson (Richard Kiel was such a gem), Joe Flaherty’s perfect delivery of “Jackass!” to throw Happy off his game, the Zamboni driver lip synching the words to “Endless Love” as Happy and Virginia kiss and skate on the ice, Shooter rhyming words by accident when threatening Happy and Happy furthering it to make fun of him, to Ben Stiller running the rest home like a sweat shop and threatening elderly and the weak, there was a sense of fearlessness in Sandler and director Dennis Dugan when it came to comedy that cinema has sorely missed. It’s obvious they were adding in elements to the screenplay and certain gags to make each other laugh regardless of how critics would respond to such random humor, but this is why the film comes off as so much fun. This type of energy is what’s missing in today’s comedy, an approach that is willing to throw any kind of ridiculousness at the wall to create organic humor out of thin air while making it work within the story. It’s goofy but above all else, it’s freeing, which is why this movie has such a celebrated legacy. For example, look at the outrageously funny situation surrounding Chubbs Peterson, played by Carl Weathers in another great mentor and friendship role in his older age. When he explains his “tragic” backstory of how he lost out on a pro career, Happy assumes it was a racial discrimination thing. Instead, in classic “Adam Sandler” fashion, they go in the complete opposite direction, with Chubbs explaining that an alligator bit his hand off and now he sports a prosthetic. Then, he gets a little weird by showcasing the eye he took from the alligator and how he carries it in a jar. This is about as random as it gets. Though the Happy Madison movies continue this trend of randomness in every movie since, it can be a little too much at times. Happy Gilmore is where they found the perfect balance for it without losing the audience, and it’s not only hilarious because of how unexpected it is, but it works within the goofy world they present to us. This is the creativity we miss in comedy.

Plus, the miles they get out of this backstory, with gags like Happy trying to shake his hand after forgetting and Happy eventually fighting and cutting off the head of the alligator to present to Chubbs as a gift is golden.

Speaking of gold, Christopher McDonald as Shooter McGavin might be one of the greatest cinematic villains of all time. I’m not joking when I say he’s right up there with Darth Vader and Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Adam Sandler films always have a great antagonist, but Shooter is the absolute best, bar none. McDonald just has the look, doesn’t he? He was born to play a villain in comedies. Hell, he was even fantastic in Dirty Work. He just has this demeanor that makes you want to punch him through the screen, but he’s so damn funny at the same time, you can’t help but appreciate him. Making asshole quip after asshole quip, McDonald’s Shooter gets under the skin of our star and the audience but entertains us thoroughly at the same time. Even at the funeral for Chubbs, you can’t help but cackle when an uncaring Shooter immediately goes to Happy and says, “Congratulations, murderer”. Shooter is the perfect counterpart to make our main character even more likable despite his antics. It gets to the point where Happy can’t get him out of his head and it even manages to fuck up his dream sequence (or “Happy Place” as Chubbs puts it)! That is when you got an all-time villain on your hands. There’s not a single scene Christopher McDonald doesn’t absolutely nail. Going head-to-head with Sandler and arguably getting just as many laughs is a near impossible task, but it’s a testament to the underrated talent McDonald holds as an actor and how committed he is in making Shooter more than a one-dimensional villain and more of a hysterical, over-the-top bad guy that will be remembered for generations. Just him firing his caddy after he suggested a five iron on one of his holes shows you how good he is, how he revels in the devilish aspects of the performance, and how infectious the humor stemming from it is. Every back-and-forth with Happy is downright hilarious too, with the “You eat pieces of shit for breakfast” being one of the most underrated jokes of any ’90s movie. In addition, his moments with Richard Kiel will always be etched in my brain.

Isn’t it weird how despite the middling popularity of golf compared to other sports, golf movies have a legitimate claim to being some of the best of any film in the sports category? Basketball is my favorite sport, but very few basketball movies can match up to films like Caddyshack, Happy Gilmore, or even the underrated Tin Cup.

As long as you can get past the product placement, you can see the genius that is Happy Gilmore. It’s a timeless classic and a great physical representation of a turning point in the next era of comedic stars and movies that dominated the 2000s. It might be outlandish, anarchic, and goofy as all hell, but it’s still laugh-out-loud funny to this very day. Basically, it’s Adam Sandler at his absolute best. It has endless replay value, and it’s guaranteed to put a smile on the face of even the most prudish of people. If you want to laugh and have the most fun possible in a quick hour and a half, Happy Gilmore is required viewing.

Fun Fact: Christopher McDonald turned down the role of Shooter McGavin twice. Bruce Campbell lobbied hard for it, and Kevin Costner turned it down in favor of Tin Cup.

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