Welcome to our monthly column, The Great Debate, where two genuinely intelligent critics face off to decide who rules Thunderdome. For this comedic edition, Film.com's Laremy Legel will argue in favor of the slightly genius "Happy Gilmore." Holding the flag for "Billy Madison" is Ben Kaplan, host of the Internet-acclaimed FilmDrunk podcast and founder of Automatik Clothing (T-shirts from the future). Gentlemen, let's get it on!
Laremy Legel, Team "Happy": "Happy Gilmore" works on a number of levels, though admittedly many Sandler films have proven to be false idols over the last decade. Hi, "Jack and Jill"! But 1996 was a simpler time, wasn't it? We still had a Pharaoh, and Hootie and his Blowfish were crushing the box office. Then, in February, "Happy Gilmore" quietly slid into theaters. Truth be told, not many folks saw it back then. But for those who did... Ah, what an impression it left.
So, Ben, I guess my opening gambit is this: Are you too good for your home?
Ben Kaplan, Team "Billy": I may not be good enough for a 20,000 square foot palatial estate with a jet-skiing pool and maid's quarters. Fortunately, "Billy Madison" is definitely not too good for the Madison Estate. (And neither are Professor X's gifted youngsters, apparently. The Madison Estate was also used in the X-Men documentaries. Seriously.). Plus, 1995 was an even simpler time than 1996, when Billy Madison was playing water polo (or was it Marco Polo?) with the unforgettable Veronica Vaughn. Back when Nudie Magazine Day still meant something in this country. Ahhh, 1995, we miss you.
So, with that, I will answer your question with a question: How can you possibly defend a movie that does not even have Chris Farley as a scene-stealing bus driver?
Laremy Legel: I see your Chris Farley and raise you a Bob Barker! Bob Barker! Of Barker's Beauties!
You've definitely got the advantage where living quarters are concerned, I completely cede that point. Poor Happy struggled to even get Nana's home back. And well played on Veronica Vaughn, but I feel smugly confident about Julie Bowen's Virginia Venit. Bowen went on to the hit TV show "Ed" — now she's crushing it on "Modern Family"! Two Primetime Emmys don't lie, scoreboard, #yolo.
But enough messing around, it's time to pull out the big guns. Not to be a downer, but doesn't the funniest joke in "Billy Madison" involve micturation? This is what you're bringing to the table?
Ben Kaplan Damn! Foiled by Bob Barker once again!
I can't lie — I had to look micturation up, and sadly the Internet did not take me to Urban Dictionary, AKA "The Modern Man's Dictionary." Yes, Grandma saying that she is Miles Davis cool because she frequently micturates her pants is funny indeed. The truth of the matter is the funniest joke in "Billy Madison" occurs when the moderator of the decathlon declares everyone officially stupider for hearing Billy's response in the debate ("The Puppy Who Lost His Way," anyone?), awarding him no points and asking God to have mercy on Billy's eternal soul.
I can't stand giving my opponent here any ammunition, but "Happy" does feature arguably the best supporting role in the history of cinema. Not a day goes by, not a day, that I do not quote a line from this great actor's scenes. How was this not your opening argument for the film?
Laremy Legel: Are you talking about Shooter McGavin? I hope you're talking about Shooter McGavin. Hmmm, this feels like a trap.
"I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul," is indeed money in the bank. See, that's the thing that's hard about arguing against "Billy Madison." I love "Billy Madison"! And the penguins! Did they tell you to do this, Ben? This is like the Civil War all over again. Now I completely get why Daniel Day-Lewis was so troubled.
Okay, okay, keep it together, Legel, you've got an Internet popularity contest to win.
Here is a real reason "Happy" must be chosen above "Billy." Science! Did you know that Happy's swing would actually work in real life? THAT IS SCIENCE. You've been beaten by science.
Oh wait, did you mean Ben Stiller? Now you've just pulled lawn duty! Arrgh, the suspense is making me crazy!
Ben Kaplan I can't believe you pulled out the Sports Science card! Nearly an unfair advantage. I am just glad science is here to remind us that Happy Gilmore's swing changed the golf game forever.
And while I can't argue with Shooter McGavin's legendary performance (finger guns AND he fires his caddy mid-round? Tremendous!), I am, of course, referring to Ben Stiller. And who pulls "lawn duty"?? It's Landscaping Duty, Legel! Have you ever left the house? "You can have a warm glass of shut the hell up"? "You will go to sleep or I will put you to sleep"? Those lines are classic, and they echo in eternity.
I leave you with this to chew on: Billy Madison's dad is played by Darren McGavin. You think he is related to Shooter? He must be, right? Probably his brother.
Laremy Legel: You fell right into that one. Now I have you quoting "Happy Gilmore" back to me. A classic blogger's trick! We call it trollin' and rollin'. Funny terms for things keep the blog engines running, that's what my pappy always said.
Now that I've got you on the run, I'll drop some more knowledge on your head. First off, "Happy Gilmore" made more money. Secondly, it has a higher RottenTomatoes score. Thirdly, the IMDB score on "Happy" is higher. Fourthly, I win. Other than the critics, general audience and the Internet, you've got a good case.
[Takes a bow]
Ben Kaplan Trolled and rolled!?! Drats! Well, while you may have me with all of your fancy "statistics," try this on for size:
Billy Madison's dad is played by Darren McGavin (FACT). What if Darren McGavin IS Shooter (Darren "Shooter" McGavin??), and Billy's dad is also Happy's nemesis!? I don't know what it all means, but I have a feeling that this conspiracy goes all the way to the top. Or it could just be total coincidence, but I really don't think so.
Billy also has a scene in which we get to laugh uproariously at someone who is literally engulfed in flames (the cooking contest during the decathlon). Have we ever laughed that hard at a human fireball before or since? I think not.
Also, Veronica Vaughn. I'm standing by that one.
Laremy Legel: I feel like "Apocalypse Now" probably had one of those fireball scenes, but there's no way I'm researching that particular point (again). I'll even give you Bridgette Wilson-Sampras. Sure, go ahead, continue with your ogling. Happy ain't care.
But your blatant attempt to muddy the waters with the conspiracy theory can't go unchecked. So here's a bit more trivia (Latin for "tributary") that will completely knock your socks off. It's clear from watching "Happy Gilmore" that Shooter McGavin wants you to do what he says. Or you'll pay. Go lay by the bay! Case closed, amiright?
In summation, even you've got to admit that "Happy Gilmore" trounces "Billy Madison" in every category that matters. It's really not even close. "Happy Gilmore" is doing an end zone dance while "Billy Madison" waits forlornly for his nudie magazine.
Regardless, we're about to turn this over to the voters, whom I'm certain will carry me to victory because democracy never lies. Any last words, hombre? Perhaps I'll see you after match, in the clubhouse?
Ben Kaplan I vaguely recall a "funny man on fire" in the Director's Cut Extended Edition Criterion Collection of "Apocalypse Now."
While I concede that "Happy" wins in categories that you no doubt skewed to suit your argument, "Billy" wins handily in the following categories:
1) Steve Buscemi applying lipstick
2) Giant penguins drinking umbrella cocktails
3) Adam Sandler talking gibberish
4) Chris Farley driving a bus while wearing 9 chins
You play a tough game, Legel. While I am honored to have fought this historic battle with you on the Internet, I only hope someday our paths shall cross again. Maybe next time we can debate "Ace Ventura" vs. "Ace Ventura 2: When Nature Calls." Bumblebee tuna, anyone?