Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Ten Statements About....HAPPY GILMORE (1996)

"I'm Adam Sandler...and I'm Product Placement's Little Bitch.."
"Just stay out of my way... or you'll pay! LISTEN to what I say!"
"Hey, why don't I just go eat some hay, make things out of clay, lay by the bay? I just may! What'd ya say?"

1) I think the saddest thing about this film isn't that it's arguably the best film Adam Sandler has done on his own (as opposed to those films, like Punch Drunk Love, where Sandler is an actor in a project conceived by someone else), but that the best film he did on his own was only his second film overall.

2) ...and another sad thing is how the Sandler formula is firmly in place this early. There's still some wiggle room, but all the earmarks of a 'classic' Sandler movie are there: the shameless product placement, the grotesque supporting characters (many played by his former peers on Saturday Night Live), the cameos by sports figures (what the Hell is rationale behind Lee Trevino sorta stalking Happy and shaking his head?), the awkward romantic arcs....

3) but one of the things that does make this film work is how Happy actually has a character arc that he completes. In the opening montage we are presented with his character flaw, a character virtue (his love of his grandmother), and a physical problem he needs to solve by overcoming his psychological problem (regaining his grandmother's house). We're also given small indicators that Happy has positive character traits, as when he sticks up for the homeless man at the country club and hiring him as his caddy. It's these things that are usually missing from present day Sandler films, and it give us identification with him and reasons to root for him.

Adam Sandler may be making all the cash...but the guy on
the left is the true star of this film
4) God bless Christopher MacDonald, who is to the 90's what William Atherton was to the 80's--namely the perfect asshole-as-comic-foil. His Shooter McGavin is so absolutely smarmy and nasty he actually invests us with even more of a desire to see Happy win. And even better, none of his plans to thwart Happy are unrealistic; because they're the sort of thing you imagine a golf pro would think of, it enforce the reality of the world, even with the unrealistic elements contained within.

5) ...and speaking of unrealistic elements, I have much love for Carl Weathers for taking a silly grotesque caricature in Chubs and making him into a three-dimensional human being that genuinely cares for Happy and his talent. Having him disappear about halfway through for the sake of another Lee Trevino gag (at a point where the non-sequitorial nature of Trevino stalking and disapproving of Happy has begun to wear) is a shame, but while we've got him he manages to help carry Sandler when he's clearly incapable of carrying a movie.

6) Man, is the product placement dripping off this film. Every single one of the stops of the tour is sponsored by a different company, whose symbol is plastered all over the place (I particularly cringed at the Pepsi ball that seems to have been placed for no reason whatsoever next to Happy and Bob Barker save to remind us who paid for this scene to be shot)...and then we get the insane Subway product placement, which includes not only a mock commercial, but actual lines of dialogue insisting that it's the one thing that makes Happy...well, happy, and an obtrusive t-shirt he wears throughout the third act.
I admit it...I post this picture because it makes me laugh
inappropriately...make up your own caption....

7) The main reason I decided to dig this out of my collection is the presence of Julie Bowen, who plays Happy's romantic interest Virginia. Bowen's still at the beginning of her career, where she has yet to grow into her face....and she has the weakest character arc. It's like the script sets up obstacles, yet doesn't figure out how Happy can overcome them--so they just gloss over them to move onto the next plot point. Bowen does what she can with this thankless role, although she can not hide its very artifice.

8) While I know Bob Barker's extended cameo is usually the one everyone remembers, the one I think works the best--to my surprise, given how much I disliked him when he was on SNL--is Kevin Nealon's new-age golf pro. Not only is the advice he gives genuinely amusing in its gobbley-gookiness, his supportive reaction to Happy's behavior adds as perfect punctuation to the scene itself. Why future cameos aren't nearly as effective in Sandler's films is baffling.

9) While I appreciate Joe Flaherty's presence in the film, his is another role where the script kind of doesn't know what to do with him after the initial sequence with him. When he does show up a second time, totaling his car in such a way that it sets up the final set piece, the script doesn't allow it to follow the character to his logical conclusion--namely Flaherty, either consciously or inadvertently, helping to confirm Shooter's duplicity.

10) While he does aquit himself well in the film, there's still a sadness at seeing Richard Keel in here playing one of Happy's former bosses. He looks pretty ragged even at this point, where he's still mobile...and knowing how his body was about to complete its rebellion against him, well....'s aged a little badly, its adherence to what we now know is The Sandler Formula damns it a little bit more, and yet it still has a capacity to make me laugh at spots.

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