Monday, June 08, 2009

"The Hangover" Review

There have been a lot of comedies like "The Hangover," though very few of them are as funny.  Director Todd Phillips has made some of them.  His "Old School" mines similar territory - dudes get into trouble after overdoing it on a jag away from screechy spouses and unsatisfying lives.  Not to mention movies like "Very Bad Things," about what can happen when rowdy trips to Vegas turn sour, "Bachlor Party," about guys trying to keep their significant others misinformed about the eponymous ritual, and "Dude Wheres My Car," about the difficulties of cleaning up after a night of particularly wild partying.

But though "Hangover" incorporates elements from all of these movies, and more, it nevertheless feels like something unique.  I'd chalk this up to two elements:

(1) A few underutilized actors finally getting a chance to take center-stage and aiming for the fences
(2) A script that isn't just a clothesline from which to hang crass jokes, but actually unfolds as something of a skewed mystery-thriller

[Mostly #1.  I'd go so far as to say that this is likely to be the best comedy of 2009 because of three men: Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms and Ken Jeong.  More on that in a bit]

The set-up is pretty familiar to anyone who has ever seen a contemporary dude comedy.  Doug (Justin Bartha, mainly known to audiences as Nicolas Cage's irritating sidekick in the irritating "National Treasure" films) is getting married.  Two of his best friends, Stu and Phil (Helms and Bradley Cooper), take him to Las Vegas 2 days before the wedding for a raucous bachelor party.  They take along Doug's creepy, socially inept future brother-in-law Alan (Galifianakis).  Cut to the morning after the party, when Doug's friends wake up in a decimated hotel room with a baby, a tiger, missing teeth, killer headaches groom.  Hey-o.

Scott Moore and Jon Lucas' script starts out predictably.  I will say that the female characters in this film, save one extreme example, aren't the standard dreary harpies you usually find in these movies, explaining away the male character's reckless behavior with the power of their bitchiness and their constant, shrill, nonsensical demands.  Jeffrey Tambor even shows up as the understanding, compassionate father of the bride, who doesn't begrudge his future son-in-law a final night on the town.  But otherwise, you know where this is going within 2 minutes, and I actually kind of felt disappointment settling in when I realized just how formula the premise really was.

But once the actual story gets going, and the guys wake up with their titular hangovers, the movie gets less conventional and more interesting.  Usually, in a movie like this about an (off-screen) crazy night of partying, you get a lot of random things thrown in that don't make any sense.  So many wild adventures happened during the black-out phase, they can't all be logically pieced back together the next day.  But not "The Hangover."  When I described it as an almost-mystery, I wasn't kidding...Structurally, the movie's not all that different from an episode of "Law and Order"...The characters find clues, interview witnesses, ask pertinent questions, and gradually, a picture of the bachelor party starts to come together.  As the guys spend 24 hours trying to find Doug and figure out what the hell went wrong the night before, Moore and Lucas actually manage to EXPLAIN most of the craziness.  We find out what that tiger is doing there, whose baby that is, where Alan's man-purse went and why Stu's missing a tooth. 

It's a nice touch, and it makes "Hangover" easily the closest Todd Phillips has ever come to making a real movie.  Usually, I feel like he just hires some funny actors and kind of lets them loose, and tries to piece together something like a story while editing.  (He essentially admits this is what was done on the "Old School" DVD.) 

But even a pretty funny script with some good, unexpected set-ups wouldn't really be enough to elevate this material above the standard "entertaining summer comedy" level without Helms and Galifianakis, and Ken Jeong's brief but amazing turn as Leslie Chow.  Galifianakis, in particular, is absolutely fearless here.  Not just willing to perform an entire scene bottomless, hit a baby on the head with a car door or lean in to a punch by Mike Tyson, but to allow Alan to be unrelentingly, uninterruptedly creepy for 90 straight minutes.  Most actors would be tempted to wink at the audience once or twice at least - hey, we know this guy is strange and kind of unsettling, but he's a good guy, right?  Right?  Well, I'm not really sure Alan is a good guy, and he's certainly not a guy I'd want around children.

Helms just hasn't ever had this much screen time in anything I've ever seen.  Stu is actually a bit like Helms' Andy Bernard character from "The Office," if a touch less angry and mean.  Stu's the emotional core of the movie - balancing Bradley Cooper's frigid aggressiveness and Galifianakis' whacked-out vulnerability - which makes it odd that he also gets so many of the best moments and funniest lines.  Also, Helms and Heather Graham manage to sketch a pretty believable romantic sub-plot in like 1 and a half scenes.

Then there's Ken Jeong as Leslie Chow.  The less said about this character, the better.  This is one of those small supporting performances that just comes in and steals the whole movie for a few scenes.  The magic of pairing a funny actor with the right role and just letting it play out naturally.  Jeong's been funny in bit parts in a number of Judd Apatow (and Co.) films - including "Knocked Up," "Pineapple Express" - but he's never been used as well as he is here.

In fact, "The Hangover" overall is just more funny and entertaining than anything from the Apatow factory.  I've been considering why this is.  First off, it's shorter.  All Apatow movies are overlong.  Apatow, you sense, wants to make GOOD films, to tell relatable that a wide cross-section of the population - men and women - can enjoy together. Phillips is definitely less self-conscious, both in terms of his style and just attitude.  He has more freedom to just make things funny. 

But I also think Apatow may just insist on making us LIKE the guys in his movies too much.  We always have to come to understand why they never grew out of being immature boys, and we always see them start down the path of maturity and responsibility by the end of the film.  (Am I the only one who hates the "Knocked Up" montage where we see Seth Rogen give up smoking pot and start working at a cubicle in some bullshit, soul-sucking office as a way of proving that he has a right to father a child?  "Hey, want a family?  Give up and conform!" Fuck you, dude.)

Phillips understands that you don't need to really like someone all that much to laugh at him, and you certainly don't have to understand his particular angst or ennui.  You just have to want to follow him around.  Sure, a movie's protagonist should grow from the experience of the movie, but it doesn't have to suck all the air out of the room.  Sometimes, growth can just be sobering up and heading back to LA to get married.

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download The Hangover 2 movie said...

I love to watch movies either that is horror, action, romantic or Animated but that would based on the good theme or the real story based movies.This is a great comedy movie i have watched in my life. said...

The dude is totally right, and there is no suspicion.