'Happy Gilmore' Is Secretly A Drama About Dealing With Loss And Grief

There’s always going to be an ongoing debate about which Adam Sandler movies are best, but even the most devout fans of the Sandman put Happy Gilmore near the top of the list. The movie isn’t just a laugh riot, it also has pathos and an emotional heft that runs through the narrative, making the story all the more enjoyable. 

The tale of a failed hockey player turned golfer is a fine setup for a comedy. Sandler’s unarguably one of the funniest people of all time, so it's clear he's got the chops to bring the character to life, but what if Happy Gilmore was about something more? Not only are there fan theories about the film being a rumination on the cruel cycle of life, but it’s clear the characters and storylines are all dealing with some serious stuff, even in a fairly ridiculous situation. 

  • Happy Discovers His Golf Skills Using His Late Grandfather's Clubs

    The origin story behind the hero of Happy Gilmore is basically mythological. When Happy's grandmother is kicked out of her home, he helps move his family's things so they don't get lost. After taking on a bet to see how far he can hit a long drive, he uses his grandfather's old clubs to knock a ball 400 yards away. 

    Once he's collected $40 in winnings from the movers, Happy begins hustling golfers at a driving range; he meets Chubbs the one-handed golf instructor and the rest is history. It's hard to imagine a more epic beginning for Happy, and it makes the film all the more emotional to know some of his golf prowess is tied to the memory of his late grandfather. 

  • Chubbs Peterson Exemplifies Persistence In The Face Of Loss

    On the surface, Chubbs Peterson is pretty silly. He's an ex-golf player whose hand was eaten by an alligator. While that sounds like a classic Adam Sandler movie character, Carl Weathers injects Chubbs with so much pathos it's clear there's something going on under the surface of the cartoon setup. 

    Though Chubbs can't play pro-level golf anymore because he's stuck with a wax hand, he continues to do things with his life and he still putts when he gets a chance. Even after suffering a great loss - Chubbs's golfing career opportunities are nil - he persists and tries to help up-and-comers rather than fold and become angry about his glory days. 

  • Happy Reaches His Lowest Point After Chubbs Meets An Untimely End

    Chubbs takes a life-ending fall out a window after Happy presents him with the head of the alligator who bit off his hand; as one might expect, this sudden twist of fate totally throws the goofy golfer for a loop. Not only does the passing of his mentor send Happy into a destructive spiral that takes his head out of the game, but he has to deal with the pain of knowing he's the reason his friend isn't around anymore. 

    At this point in the film, it's unclear whether you're watching a comedy or a ghost story. Happy bounces back from his low point, but it's obvious nothing is the same as it was before. From the tone of his voice to the way he swings his clubs, everything Happy does is laced with a sense of guilt for what he cannot fix. Even if there aren't any jump scares or ancient curses, taking out Chubbs is definitely going to haunt Happy for the rest of his life. 

  • Happy's Encounter With Bob Barker Symbolizes The Struggle Against The Passage Of Time

    One of the greatest scenes in Happy Gilmore is unarguably when Happy gets into a straight up fist fight with Price is Right host Bob Barker at the Pro-Am stop on the tour. Even though Happy's easily half the age of Barker, he can't best the old timer. On the contrary, any time he knocks the old guy down Barker just gets back up and contiues to lay down a walloping. 

    Happy's fight with Barker is a metaphor for how no one can fight aging or the passage of time. Whether you're rich, poor, sinful, or earnest, time's never going to stop reaching up and grabbing you by the throat. It's best to just go through your full 18 holes while trying to avoid getting totally trounced. 

  • The End Of The Film Shows The Existence Of A Nice Afterlife

    At the end of Happy Gilmore the titular golfer wins the tournament, the love of his life, and he's able to get his grandma's house back. When Happy shows his grandma her home, he sees the ghost of Chubbs, the alligator who ate Chubbs's hand, and Abraham Lincoln waving to him from Heaven. No one else can see them, but they're there. 

    The film seems to be suggesting there's an afterlife out there, and it shouldn't be feared - only embraced. Even if you don't believe in an afterlife, the ending's message is still viable. Whatever's waiting for us after we meet our end isn't something to be afraid of, it's more like a grand homecoming of sorts. 


  • Shooter McGavin Is Driven By A Fear Of Being Forgotten

    There's no two ways about it, Shooter McGavin is a jerk. He's mean and condescending to everyone he meets and he can't even be kind to his fans when he encounters them while on tour. Even though he's the type of tool your dad would exclude from his shed, his harsh demeanor is actually driven by a pretty human fear - he's terrified of being forgotten. 

    McGavin doesn't externalize it, but when he's faced with the prospect of new energy coming onto the Pro Golf Tour, he does whatever he can to push everyone away. He cranks up his ornery attitude because he's afraid people will forget who he his otherwise. Who hasn't acted out because they were worried about fading into nothingness?