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Non-Review Review: Happy Gilmore

I’m not a guy who likes Adam Sandler – except maybe in The Wedding Singer or something. Still, it seems that the most unlikely people are inevitably fated to have a soft spot for a particular Sandler comedy, even if it doesn’t quite deserve it – my better half’s father, for example, has an inexplicable affection for Little Nicky. I, however, have a completely illogical affection for Happy Gilmore – despite the fact that I make note of its many flaws even as I watch it. It’s a movie I can’t quite justify my affection for, which perhaps makes it even more oddly endearing.

Taking a swing at it...

For those unfamiliar with the movie, it features Sandler playing an aspiring, yet terrible, hockey player who ends up playing golf as a means of earning the money to buy back his beloved granmother’s house. Happy also has a terrible anger management problem along with a string of bad luck. However, his hockey skills improbably transfer to golf, and his temper allows him to create a hip and radical golfing persona (like John McEnroe did in tennis), drawing a new type of fan and a cult following.

The above plot makes it sound far more complex than it actually is. Along the way the way, Happy picks up a rival in the form of the wonderfully underrated Christopher McDonald and a lover in the form of the “appearing before she’s famous” Julie Bowen. It’s essentially your straightforward “quirky character against the establishment” film, where golf stand in for the establishment. The movie isn’t the funniest of the “sporting” comedies of the nineties (between Kingpin and The Big Lebowski, it seems like bowling was where it was at, not golf), nor is it the finest golf comedy ever made (Tin Cup and Caddyshack come to mind), but I’m unable to resist its charm.

No tongue...

A large part of the charm is the cast, which is simply very well put together. In place of Rob Schneider, we get a heavy-weight cast including Ben Stiller, Carl Weathers and Christopher McDonald. McDonald in particular is just brilliant at conveying the “smugness” that a rival in a film like this needs. “I eat pieces of sh!t like you for breakfast,” he warns his adversary, who then proceeds to ask some questions about his dietery habits. “Shooter” McGavin is as wonderfully shallow as supporting roles in these types of films need to be, but McDonald plays him with the sort of overvalued self-importance that these kinds of blowhards so typically have.

The movie isn’t hilarious, but it’s comedic enough to keep the viewer engaged, particularly a cameo from Bob Barker (“the price is wrong, bitch!”). The finale is exactly what you’d expect, but it’s well choreographed and staged (bonus points for the music that’s so frequently used for the montages). And, if you get bored, you can just try to spot the next piece of product placement – which, amusingly enough, the movie can’t be bothered to hide. I really hope Subway paid for the golf courses, based on how often they’re featured (even on Happy’s shirt, though the movie plays this as a sort of hypocritical joke – Happy is likely sponsored by Subway because he likes them, but he only likes them because they’re sponsoring the film). Oh, and remember, “a diet Pepsi”.

I just can’t resist it. It’s predictable and straightforward – it certainly doesn’t break new ground or anything so controversial. A fair few of its jokes don’t quite hit the mark, but the movie just works. Perhaps it’s because the film fulfills its modest aims so successfully, but it’s a solidly entertaining – if disposable – comedy.

9 Responses

  1. I still have this on VHS and occassionally sit down and laugh for a while. I can’t explain why I love it, but I do.

  2. What I find engaging about it is a series of moments. Whereas the film I’m most adamantly in love with in the world of Sandler (he’s 50/50 with me) is Billy Madison. Which as an entire movie I’ll defend, but Happy Gilmore is simply full of random humor. Like you pointed out, it’s full of plot holes, the notion of the entire story is ridiculous, but isn’t it often that the films we find most enjoyable are flawed and we love them in spite of that? Even the most ostentatious of critics name movies in their favorites that are inherently flawed.

    • Yep. I’m not a huge fan of Billy Madison, but I don’t know why I can love this and not that – it’s strange. I really should be able to articulate it. On the other hand, I might just sit here and contemplate Ben Stiller’s mustache.

  3. Totally agree with you about this movie being oddly endearing. I usually absolutely despise this Adam Sandler/Rob Schneider type of movies but Happy Gilmore isn’t as obnoxious and it is actually quite funny. Maybe, it’s because it revolves around golf which is such a cerebral and emotionless game.

    • I wouldn’t go that far, but you’re right – it’s a lot more “buttoned down” than most.

      Also, maybe the appeal is a personal one. I used to work at a golf club (despite never really being any good at it). And the people were nice, but there was the odd “Shooter McGavin” type who would breeze in. Right down the “Diet Pepsi” bit.

  4. I too have a soft spot for Happy Gilmore. It makes smile every time. I adore Carl Weathers and some of the set-pieces are just inspired.

    By the way did you mean John McEnroe and Tin Cup up above? 😉

  5. No worries mate. I love your blog. I only wish I could write half as well myself.

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