Four Comedies We Didn’t Know Were Autobiographical

Making secretly personal movies is way cheaper than therapy
Four Comedies We Didn’t Know Were Autobiographical

Since coming up with original ideas is tough, and therapy can be expensive, a fantastical sum of filmmakers frequently pour personal details from their lives into their own work — and the world of comedy is certainly no exception.

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Some movie comedies make this conceit pretty obvious — has Pete Davidson ever played a character not named, like, Dete Pavidson? — but other films are far more subtle when it comes to their autobiographical elements, such as how…

‘Happy Gilmore’ Is About Adam Sandler’s Hollywood Career

On the one hand, Happy Gilmore is a patently ridiculous movie, one that co-stars both Bob Barker and a vengeful, one-eyed alligator. But if you dig a little deeper, it’s a very personal meditation on the state of Adam Sandler’s career, telling the allegorical story of Sandler’s transition from late-night TV cast member to Hollywood big shot. 

Back in 1995, just a year before Happy Gilmore was released, Sandler was famously fired from Saturday Night Live, which he later admitted “hurt” at the time. Happy Gilmore begins with Happy being scrapped from hockey tryouts, arguably a representation of the SNL rejection. Although we’re guessing that, in real life, Sandler didn’t uppercut Lorne Michaels in the gut.

Happy is then forced to take up golf, which he has a real knack for, eventually becoming a major celebrity. This is not unlike how Sandler transitioned from a career in TV sketch comedy to the life of a Hollywood star. And both Sandler and Happy did this by using the same basic skillset (acting/firing slapshots) but in a whole new forum (movies/golf).

Come to think of it, Sandler’s exit from the world of TV is metaphorically dramatized in Happy Gilmore in the iconic Bob Barker scene, which finds Sandler battling a living embodiment of network television.

In the end, Happy wins the championship and presumably goes on to a long career of playing tournaments at exotic locations where his friends and family can vacation for free. 

‘Ghostbusters: Afterlife’ Is About Being Ivan Reitman’s Son

The weirdest part of Ghostbusters: Afterlife is probably the belated reveal that Egon Spengler was secretly a deadbeat dad who was emotionally scarring his neglected daughter at the same time that we were all enjoying his paranormal battles with giant marshmallow men and evil historical portraits. In the end, though, Egon’s daughter moves past her dad’s Ghostbusting abandonment, ultimately reconciling with his mute, Polar Express-like ghost.

A lot of people had big problems with Afterlife, ranging from the gratuitous Walmart product placement to the VFX grave-robbing to the lack of delicious Ecto Cooler on store shelves, but as for Egon’s absentee parenting, that at least has some meta justification. The film was, of course, directed by Jason Reitman, son of original Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman. According to Reitman, he didn’t fully realize it while making the movie, but the story oddly mirrored his relationship with his own father, who was “obsessed” with his work and wasn’t always around. 

So the film is autobiographical in the sense that Egon is essentially a stand-in for Ivan Reitman, but instead of fighting demonic forces threatening our dimension, Reitman’s dad was off making, say, Junior. Furthermore, at the end of Afterlife, Egon’s family inherits the Ghostbusters business, thus mirroring the nepotism of the Ghostbusters franchise

‘Rushmore’ Is Based on Wes Anderson’s Childhood

Before every one of his movies looked like a pastel dollhouse made of corduroy, Wes Anderson’s sophomore effort, Rushmore, told the marginally more grounded story of Max Fischer, a prep school student who spends the bulk of his time engaging in various extracurricular activities. Most memorably, Max mounts several elaborate stage productions, such as his adaptation of Serpico.

The film was heavily inspired by Anderson’s own childhood, and all the Rushmore scenes were even shot at his actual former school in Houston. Max’s theatrical ambitions were once shared by Anderson; when his parents were going through a divorce, a teacher suggested channeling his frustrations into writing plays. Not unlike Max, Anderson often took a starring role. “All the choice roles I reserved for me,” Anderson once said in an interview. “I played Davy Crockett in one play and the headless horseman and Ichabod Crane in another one.”

No word on if he tried to romance his teachers.

Every Judd Apatow Movie Is About Judd Apatow

Judd Apatow has made some of the greatest movies ever made about goofy man-children who inexplicably fail upwards. Looking back at his directorial career, a lot of Apatow’s movies seem distinctly autobiographical — and we’re not just talking about the ones that actually co-star his wife and children.

Take The 40-Year-Old Virgin. While Apatow lost his virginity in high school, not in his fourth decade of life, it didn’t go well and ended in abject awkwardness. In turn, he became “scared to death” of women. Apatow said that he wrote the movie because he “understood the feeling of the 40-year-old virgin. I understood his panic.” 

As for Knocked Up, the story of a schlubby dude who spends his days working on creative projects of dubious merit with his buddies but then ends up starting a family could be seen as a stand-in for Apatow’s relationship with wife Leslie Mann. And the director admitted: “Everything that happens in the last act in the hospital happened when my wife and I had our last child. Our doctor left town. And we had to use a different doctor, who kept yelling at us.”

Funny People seems to have been inspired by Apatow’s past history of interviewing comedy legends when he was a teenager, and it even co-stars one of his former interviewees, Paul Reiser. And in This Is 40Paul Rudd’s character — who is married to Leslie Mann and the father of children played by Mann and Apatow’s real-life kids — is having a midlife crisis because the last album his label released, a passion project, totally flopped. This feels like a metaphor for the commercial failure of Apatow’s previous film, Funny People, which was also seemingly a passion project.

This also explains why This Is 40 wants us to feel sorry for a guy crying about his money problems while literally seated behind the wheel of a BMW and why said problems are ultimately solved by randomly deciding to just make another project with someone super-famous. 

You (yes, you) should follow JM on Twitter (if it still exists by the time you’re reading this).

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