Film: Happy Gilmore

"He doesn't play golf — he destroys it."

While Caddyshack is widely regarded as the greatest golf movie ever made, this is undoubtedly the second greatest.

Happy Gilmore is the story of — well, Happy Gilmore, a die-hard hockey fan who badly wants to make it in the pro leagues. Unfortunately for him, he gets cut at every tryout due to a considerable lack in skill — a powerful slapshot notwithstanding. Things go from bad to worse when he discovers his grandmother owes over $250,000 in back taxes and is about to lose her home. While her stuff is being repossessed, the two workers challenge Happy to hit golf balls. He does...and much to the workers' (and his own) surprise, discovers he has a 400yd+ drive. After a remark about how he can make lots of money doing that, he decides to give golfing a shot.

This is a movie brimming with hilarity from front to back, and regarded as one of Adam Sandler's defining roles. It is also the highest reviewed movie directed by Dennis Dugan, earning a 60% on Rotten Tomatoes.

This film provides examples of:

  • Aborted Arc: In the theatrical release, the buildup about the orderly in the nursing home is all for naught, as he isn't seen ever again after the grandma leaves the home. He doesn't even appear in the scene where she leaves. In TV airings and the special DVD release, however, he gets his comeuppance by being thrown out a window and beaten with purses by old ladies
  • Accidental Athlete: Played with. Happy is trying to be an athlete, just at hockey instead of golf.
  • Alliterative Name: Virginia Venit, the second of Adam's "V-name" girlfriends.
  • Artistic License Sports:
    • Downplayed; they mention that one can take a drop with a two-stroke penalty, but neither Shooter nor Happy does (Shooter would be hitting a ball off a patron's shoe, and Happy would be putting over a fallen broadcaster's tower that winds up amazingly like a mini-golf hole). However, Shooter and Happy's lie are treated equally by the association president when they are not under any golf rule set; Shooter has to play his ball off Mr. Larson's foot because it was an errant shot of his own agency. Virtually every US golf association rule set would allow the tower to be cleared from Happy's line of putt, as the obstruction came from fan interference and the golfer can request a movable obstruction that is not part of the course design to be removed. One could also be like Happy and just hit it with brimming confidence anyways.
    • Most professional tours wouldn't allow someone in the audience to constantly belittle and harass a golfer on the tour, as Donald (the Jackass guy) does to Happy. Security would probably have tossed him out the first time he yelled through Happy's backswing.
  • Badass Boast: On Mr. Larson's shirt: "Guns don't kill people, I kill people."
  • Badass Grandpa: Happy learns the hard way that Bob Barker is one of these; he gets the shit beaten out of him.
    • Counts as a Real Life Example too; Barker practiced Tang So Doo and was even taught under Chuck Norris at one point.
  • Berserk Button: Happy has many; threats to his grandma, other players taking the puck away from him, balls that don't want to "go home" etc.
  • Beyond the Impossible: Happy has a 400 yard drive. In real golf, a 300 yard drive is considered to be very impressive. Indeed, everyone who sees it for the first time can't believe their eyes.
  • Big "NO!":
    • Happy, after Shooter crashes his dream sequence.
    • Shooter himself, after he loses the tournament and while getting the absolute stuffing beaten out of him by Mr. Larson and a mob of angry Happy fans after he stole the gold jacket near the end.
  • Bizarre and Improbable Golf Game: Shooter learns that the "play it where it lies" rule applies for everyone. This is why he has to hit a ball off Mr. Larson's foot.
  • Book Ends: The film begins and ends with the opening guitar strains of "Tuesday's Gone" by Lynyrd Skynyrd.
  • Boxing Lessons for Superman: Despite the Long Drive giving him an unbelievable advantage, his short game bites. At the Third Act he realizes this and goes to his old golf mentor to learn how to play the short game.
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: The IRS Agent's reaction after Happy threw him out the window.
    IRS Agent: (Calmly getting back up) Yeah, he hates me.
  • Butt Monkey: The towheaded caddy at the invitational is a hapless punching bag for Happy.
  • Chased by Angry Natives: Shooter gets this after losing to Happy then, being the sore loser he is, trying to steal his Golden Jacket...right in front of Happy's fans (who happen to include a particularly enraged Richard Kiel). In this case, he doesn't run fast enough.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: After a frustrating round of putting, Happy unleashes one but because it only happens in replays of tournaments, they're all bleeped out.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Happy's slap shot helps him be an incredible golfer.
  • Cool Old Lady: For someone presumably old enough to remember the Great Depression, Grandma Gilmore is surprisingly keen on who Gene Simmons and Brooke Shields are.
  • Crippling Overspecialization: Aside from his extremely long drive, Happy's golf skills aren't much to talk about. His putting in particular is quite poor, but he ultimately defies this trope by accepting Chubbs' training offer and learning on a miniature golf course.
  • Critical Research Failure: In-Universe.
    Lee Trevino: Grizzly Adams did have a beard.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: This is what happens when Happy attacks Bob Barker. Barker lands 17 hits on Happy. Happy lands two.
  • Deconstruction: This movie is a commentary on golfers, their attitudes, and golfing.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: In the prologue we learn that Happy got into a fight with his boss, Mr. Larson. Happy feels like 'I won the fight' and when they met later, Mr.Larson is one of his fans and beats the crap out of Shooter on Happy's behalf.
  • Destination Defenestration: Happy knocks some people out of windows in anger.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Shooter gets one when he first appears. At first he just acts like a jerk to everyone around him, but what clearly establishes him is when he asks his caddie for advice on a shot the caddie suggests a certain club. Shooter ignores him, asks for a different club, and after making the shot with said club immediately fires his caddie while grinning.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Happy, who is otherwise a jerkass, becomes a gentleman around his grandmother.
  • Everyman: Virginia argues that Happy is a ratings bonanza for the tour because professional golf needs a "working-class hero" whom ordinary people can look up to.
  • Evil Plan: An odd example in that the plot's initial conflict, Mrs. Gilmore losing her house, is not the real villain's plan. Instead, that would be Shooter's attempts to kick Happy off the Pro Tour for stealing his thunder.
  • Faux Affably Evil: The retirement home / sweat shop manager is very friendly when Happy is visiting his grandma, but when he's gone...
  • From Bad to Worse: Happy watches his grandmother's house get auctioned off. The winner? Shooter McGavin.
  • Funny Background Event:
  • Gentle Giant / Hidden Depths: Happy's Boss Mr. Larson is at first shown to be a brooding intimidating guy, but when he's calm he is actually a nice guy to those that deserve it and even tells Happy he is proud of him. He also takes a step further in chasing down Shooter when the latter steals Happy's prize golden Jacket.
  • Gilligan Cut:
    IRS Auditor: You hate me, don't you?
    Happy: I don't hate you.
    (cut to IRS Auditor being thrown out Grandma's glass front door)
    IRS Auditor: He hates me.
  • Good Colors, Evil Colors: In Happy Gilmore's "Happy Place", Virginia is usually wearing white underwear but when Shooter invades the dream sequence, her underwear is black.
    • Variable Mix: The music also changes from ethereal to Heavy Metal.
  • Grievous Bottley Harm: Happy threatens Shooter with it, but Virginia stops Happy before he can.
    Happy: Yeah, I was just looking for the other half of this bottle, and— oh, here's some! There's some... over there, too.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Happy will fly off the handle at perceived slights; he ripped off a guy's shirt and punched him out because of a sarcastic remark about his putting skills.
  • Ha Ha Ha No: Happy's reaction to the member of the audience chiding him on his putting skills in his first tournament. Happy agrees with the guy until he gets close enough for a sucker punch.
  • Happy Place: Trope Namer. Chubbs tells Happy to relax by going to a place "that's perfect; your own happy place".
  • The Heckler: Shooter hires a guy to harass Happy while he plays because Happy simply does not have the self discipline to ignore him and he promised not to attack other players or the audience. So he is constantly hearing the guy scream "You're not going to make this putt, you jackass!" and eventually this leads to him taking out his anger on Bob Barker.
  • Heroic Comedic Sociopath: Happy's temper, aggression, and disregard for the well being of others (like the family at the end of the street) is played for laughs.
  • Hollywood New England: Grandma's house is in Waterbury; Happy's Boston Bruins gear indicates that the movie specifically takes place in Waterbury, Connecticut, the site of Happy's first open.
  • Hope Spot: Happy earns enough money to buy back Grandma's house, only to learn that it's being sold at auction, where he is outbid by Shooter.
  • "I Know What We Can Do" Cut: After Happy is suspended for fighting with Bob Barker, he and Virginia sit down to eat at Subway. While Happy describes the sandwich he's eating, it cuts directly to him in a Subway commercial, having worked out an endorsement deal.
  • Innocently Insensitive: Happy is this when he first meets Shooter by asking where his Gold Jacket is. This a major Berserk Button to him as he believes he should have earned one by now.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: When Happy flounders in the final tournament thanks to Shooter's chiding and is so frustrated that not even his Happy Place can help him, his grandmother breaks him out of it by telling him whether he wins or loses she wants him to be happy. This calms him down enough to focus and make a comeback.
  • Insult Backfire:
    Shooter: I eat pieces of shit like you for breakfast.
    Happy: You eat pieces of shit for breakfast?
    Shooter (panicked): ...No!
  • Jerk Jock: Shooter McGavin is obnoxious and arrogant and looks down on Happy for being new. He's like the stereotypical high school jock that went professional.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Happy's a Nice Guy when he's not trying to stab someone with a hockey skate or throwing a guy out of a second-story window. He puts his dream of becoming a hockey player on hold in order to play a sport he can't stand, just so he can make enough money that his grandmother doesn't lose her house.
  • Karma Houdini:
    • Ben Stiller's character (the retirement home orderly) in the theatrical version. In TV and extended DVD versions, the Grandma tells Happy about her mistreatment, and Happy throws the orderly out of a second-story window in retaliation.
    • Also Joe Flaherty's character Donald, the fan hired by Shooter to annoy Happy ("Jackass!"). Along with being a Jerk Ass, he also runs into Happy with his car. He's last seen fleeing the golf course with security in pursuit, but we never find out his fate. In a deleted scene before this during the championship game, Happy calls him out on his insults and forces him to take a shot. He fails horribly. Considering a part of him caught on fire briefly any potential burns he suffers that scar him permanently is a good karmic kick.
  • Kick the Dog: Shooter when he tries to buy Happy's grandmother's house and suggests that she become his maid and turn Happy's childhood bedroom into his trophy room.
  • Kick Them While They Are Down: Bob Barker's finishing shot on Happy. Now he's had enough...
  • Let's Get Dangerous / Took A Level In Bad Ass: "Happy learned how to putt... uh-oh!"
  • Laser-Guided Karma: After hiring someone to throw off Happy, his shot gets thrown off...right onto the foot of Mr. Larson.
  • Mentor Occupational Hazard: Chubbs, who dies from a combination of fright and a long fall.
  • Metaphorgotten:
    Happy (to his golf ball, after barely missing a putt): You son of a bitch ball — why don't you just go home?! That's your home! Are you too good for your home?! Answer me!
  • Morality Chain: Happy's grandmother is his defining moral point her being in trouble is what sparks the whole plot off, and Happy rejects anything that will cause her harm in some way.
  • Morality Pet: Happy is surprisingly nice to the homeless guy he picks up to be his caddy. After he wins the tournament, he makes the guy his butler.
  • No Badass to His Valet: The homeless guy that Happy enlists as his caddie seems completely unafraid of Happy's explosive temper. In one scene, he catches a golf club hurled by Happy at high speed without even flinching.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Happens offscreen to Shooter courtesy of an angry mob and a REALLY angry Mr.Larson.
  • No Sympathy: Bob Barker is not interested in Happy's excuses of the very loud and visible heckler distracting his playoff, and makes clear he blames their loss on his incompetence, only spearheading the latter to take his frustrations out on him when he won't relent on insults of his own.
  • Nothing Can Stop Us Now: This is how Happy feels when he eventually wins enough money to pay off the money his grandma owes the IRS. The next scene shows it auctioned off for more money than Grandma Gilmore owed in taxes.
  • The Obi-Wan: Chubbs is a legend among golf pros. The reason why he's the Mentor Archetype and not The Hero is better justified than in many stories. In golf, missing a hand is a large handicap.
  • Oh, Crap: Shooter's reaction to Mr. Larson's threat after he has to play it where it Mr. Larson's foot.
    Mr. Larson: That's two thus far, Shooter.
    Shooter McGavin: Oh, you can count. Good for you.
    Mr. Larson: And you can count...on me, waiting for you in the parking lot!
    (crowd "oooo"s in surprise while Shooter runs away, followed by someone in the crowd mockingly calling "Run Shooter!")
    • Another example between the two:
    Mr. Larson: Trying to reach the green from here, Shooter?
    Shooter McGavin: That's not possible, sir.
    Mr. Larson: I beg to differ; Happy Gilmore accomplished that feat, no more than an hour ago.
    Shooter McGavin: Well, MORON...(turns around) good for Happy (sees Larson) Gilm-OHMYGOD!
    • The look on Shooter's face when Mr. Larson bends his 9-iron is priceless.
  • Only a Flesh Wound: Happy is hit with a car. The only loss he suffers is his ability to hit the long drive; he quickly shrugs off his injuries and is able to win the tournament.
    Doctor: Well, you're a little banged up but no serious injuries. Just keep off your feet for a few days.
    Happy: To Hell with that, I gotta finish up.
  • Only in It for the Money: Subverted. Gilmore will readily tell anyone that will listen that money is his prime motivation for golfing, but is embarrassed to tell people that his real reason is to get his Grandmother's house back and is saving every penny of his winnings to achieve this.
  • Place Worse Than Death: The retirement home where Happy leaves his grandmother is a cover for its true purpose; a sweatshop for old people.
  • Product Placement:
    • Happy gets an endorsement deal with Subway long before Jared made the company famous. In this case it's a plot point; the commercials earn Happy enough money to pay his grandma's back taxes.
    • The Pepsi logo also shows up several times in the film.
    • In his review of the film, Roger Ebert noted "Diet Pepsi, Pepsi, Pepsi Max, Subway sandwich shops, Budweiser (in bottles, cans, and Bud-dispensing helmets), Michelob, Visa cards, Bell Atlantic, AT&T, Sizzler, Wilson, Golf Digest, the ESPN sports network, and Top-Flite golf balls."
  • Punch Clock Villain: The IRS agent is resigned to the fact that his job makes people think he's evil. When Happy punches him out the front door, he is neither surprised nor angry.
  • Protagonist Title: Happy Gilmore
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: Happy's golf swing is mocked by several people (and secretly attempted by Shooter), but the ESPN show Sports Science showed that a running start gave Padraig Harrington an extra 30 yards distance. Unfortunately, the same show also showed that a running start destroys any chance at an accurate swing, so it's a trade-off.
  • Recruited From The Gutter: Played for Laughs; Happy's caddy is a homeless man he hires (who eats the crackers Happy sets down to mark his ball). After the events of the film, he hires him full time as a butler.
  • Rule of Funny: Why is Happy never in deep trouble or arrested for his multiple assaults? Because it's funny!
  • Running Gag: Lee Trevino looking at Happy forlornly and shaking his head. There's a twist on this near the end.
    Shooter: You, beat me, at golf? Yeah right, and Grizzly Adams had a beard.
    Trevino: (interjecting) Grizzly Adams did have a beard.
  • Shared Universe: Happy Gilmore exists in the same continuity as The Waterboy, Joe Dirt, and Little Nicky.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: The TV censors can barely keep up with Happy.
  • Slobs Versus Snobs: The plot is driven by the rivalry between the blue-collar Happy Gilmore and the upper class Shooter McGavin.
    Virginia: Golf has been waiting for a player like this: A colorful, emotional, working-class hero.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Shooter to a T. He's smug to everyone, especially Happy, about what a great golfer he is. However it's clearly shown that some Gold Jacket champions are more interested in welcoming Happy to his first open than talking to Shooter.
  • Smug Snake: Shooter McGavin is a great golfer, no doubt about that, but he's not as great as he thinks he is and his ego is fragile.
  • Take a Third Option: After a tower crashes down on the putting green, blocking Happy's path to the hole, Shooter fully expects Happy to not able to putt around it efficiently enough to stay even with Shooter's par. Virginia suggests that he stroke around the crashed tower and get a two-putt to send the contest into overtime. Instead, Happy decides to use the struts of the tower as conduits to the hole in an attempt to win the game right there.
  • Tame His Anger: The secret to Happy learning how to putt is controlling his anger and focusing on the putt itself.
    Chubbs: This isn't Hockey; you don't play with raw emotion.
  • This Cannot Be!: Shooter during his Villainous Breakdown, if you can make it out over the crowd cheering and his general shout-iness.
  • This Is for Emphasis, Bitch!: First by Happy to Bob Barker ("The price is wrong, bitch!") then by Bob Barker to Happy ("I think you've had enough...(punts a downed Happy) Now you've had enough...bitch!")
  • Training from Hell: Happy goes through this twice first, when he stands in a batting cage and gets pelted with baseballs to toughen himself up, and later he has to learn how to putt at a very gaudy mini-golf course. He preferred the former ("God, I love it!") to the latter.
  • Tranquil Fury: (Surprisingly) Happy has a scene like this. After Shooter told Happy to meet him on the 9th green at 9 (the time the sprinklers come on), Happy just has a large grin on his face, calmly walks off back to the clubhouse, and after being stopped by Virginia, he cheerfully tells her that he is planning on "beat(ing) the living piss out of" Shooter.
  • Troll: "You WILL NOT make this putt, you jackass!"
  • Underdressed for the Occasion: Happy shows up to an upscale social gathering wearing denim jeans, sneakers, and an AC/DC t-shirt.
    Chubbs: By the way, thanks for dressing up.
  • Unskilled, but Strong: Happy can hit the ball 400 yards by adapting his hockey slapshot. His inability to putt (among other things) prevents him from becoming a great golfer. He slowly learns golfing skills over the course of the movie.
    • This as well as in his fighting ability. When he goes up against Bob Barker, who is a trained fighter, he gets his butt kicked.
  • Unstoppable Rage: You don't want to make Happy mad at you. However this trope is inverted as his rage causes him to lose focus and make his golfing game sloppy. Shooter uses this against him in the duo tournament with Barker which causes their fight. Chubbs helps him to overcome this and then Happy himself does it on his own in the final game.
  • Villainy-Free Villain: The IRS agent who takes Grandma Gilmore's house due to unpaid back taxes is simply doing his job. He even points this out when Happy shows up to stop the moving men. Happy throws the IRS agent out of a window anyway. By his reaction it is heavily suggested this happens to him regularly.
  • Villain with Good Publicity:
    • Shooter considers Happy to be this. He feels that Happy Gilmore's antics are ruining the sport of golf (plus, he also feels that Happy is a threat to his chances of winning a championship).
    • Shooter himself is the genuine article. With all the coverage and fans he has, no one knows (outside of anyone that has to spend more than a few minutes with him) that he's an asshole.
  • Villain Has a Point: The IRS agent legally has the right to kick Happy's grandma out of her house since she hadn't paid her taxes in over 20 years.
  • Who Needs Overtime: Happy elects to take a difficult putt to win the tour championship instead of taking a safe two-putt opportunity to force a playoff.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Shooter believes Happy is a Villain with Good Publicity out to destroy golf and that he himself is the hero that will save it.