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'Happy Gilmore' (1996): A Review

"What's the matter ball? Are you too good for your home?"
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Happy Gilmore


The name Adam Sandler does not inspire much confidence nowadays, particularly after the string of awful, pointless, and terrible films he has assaulted the general public with these past few years. In fact some people – particularly those of a younger generation – are probably curious as to why this man keeps getting work given the appalling and downright boring quality of his movies. And while the phrases ‘secret blackmail material’ and ‘Faustian pact’ are occasionally brought up in order to explain this phenomena, the truth is that not too long ago Adam Sandler actually made movies that were pretty funny. Case in point: Dennis Dugan’s 1996 sports-comedy, ‘Happy Gilmore’, staring Sandler as the titular character.

During this earlier period in Sandler’s cinematic career, he still possessed some of the manic spontaneous energy that was once his comedic hallmark, his wild outbursts, profane crassness, and comedic delivery far more energetic and well-timed than any of his more contemporaneous performances. Throughout the film, Sandler’s hockey-player-turned-golfer Happy insults strangers, threatens pedestrians, and in one of the film’s more memorable scenes, gets in a fistfight with none other than ‘The Price is Right’s very own Bob Barker (and loses to him).

Crude and childish though it all may be, there is something almost refreshing about seeing Sandler playing such an unlikable, crash and irrelevant character, particularly when he is contrasted with some of the other, more tame characters Sandler has played most recently. Whether its beating up a random spectator, insulting Carl Weathers’ affinity for golf, or taking out his frustration on a miniature golf-course, there’s something so visceral and rewarding about watching Sandler’s Happy throwing tantrums and beating people up after only the slightest of provocations, as though he were actually just some random mental patient that Dennis Dugan happened upon and just decided to film for an hour and a half.

But while Sandler’s crude and violent performance is part of the charm of ‘Happy Gilmore’, the film could never have worked were it not for the inclusion of one of the most underrated character actors in Hollywood today – Christopher MacDonald. MacDonald was often cast as ‘the villain’ in a number of mid-to-late nineties comedies, and for good reason: The man has perfected the ‘smug, arrogant, smarmy jackass’ character. In ‘Happy Gilmore’, MacDonald truly hits his villainous stride as Shooter MaGavin, the pretentious and conceited pro-golfer who plots to get Happy kicked off the Tour, particularly after Happy shows himself more than capable at beating Shooter, and winning the coveted ‘gold jacket’ of the Tour championship.

One cannot overstate the importance (and magic) of Christopher MacDonald’s performance. As its’ already been noted above, there is nothing really appealing or likable about Sandler’s Gilmore. Certainly he cares about his grandmother (Frances Bey), as illustrated by the fact that the entire plot of the movie (re: Happy Gilmore plays golf to earn enough money to keep his grandmother’s house from being foreclosed on), but aside from this singular aspect there’s absolutely nothing noble, admirable, or even empathetic about the character Happy Gilmore. And yet we root for him throughout the film because that’s how much of a scumbag MacDonald’s Shooter MacGavin is. Yes, MacDonald portrays MacGavin as being so slimy, so pompous, so ridiculous in his conceit that we actively root for the violent, borderline sociopath to best him in the film’s climax at the Pro Tour because it is impossible not to hate him.

Aside from MacDonald and Sandler, a few of the film’s other supporting characters also help to make Dugin/Sandler’s collaberation far more memorable (and funnier) than their later works, including Ben Stiller as Hal, the mean-spirited and vile nursing home attendant whose performance is a brief but darkly funny one, as well as Carl Weathers as Chubbs Peterson, Happy’s patient and laconic golf-mentor and probably the only person in the film who insults Happy and doesn’t get beaten up over it. So when the newest Adam Sandler movie inevitably comes out, and you’re left wondering why people still insist on giving this man money to make more of them, you’ll know why: It’s because their hoping his newest feature is going be a little more like ‘Happy Gilmore’ and a little less like ‘Jack & Jill’ (2011).

Find the nearest Blockbuster (assuming they still exist) near your home so you can rent this film almost immediately. Or, if you prefer that movies came to you instead, set up a Netflix account and start your ordering as soon as possible.

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