I try not to pee myself in public more than once or twice a year. It’s a pride issue mostly, but there’s also the smell, the clean-up, the rash… it’s really just too much of a hassle to make a habit of it. Limiting myself to six “accidents” per year seemed pretty reasonable, but I somehow reached that threshold early this past March (I blame it on my visit to Reject HQ for SXSW) meaning the remainder of the year was supposed to be dry and urine-free. I was managing pretty well too… until I went to see The Hangover the other night. Luckily I had a Snapple handy to camouflage my shame.
The Hangover begins with the brilliant conceit of being a bachelor party movie that never shows you the party. Doug (Justin Bartha) heads to Las Vegas with Phil, Stu, and Alan to celebrate his last days as a single man before marrying Tracy (Sasha Barrese). Phil (Bradley Cooper) and Stu (Ed Helms) are his best friends, and Alan (Zach Galifianakis) is his soon-to-be brother-in-law. Alan’s a bit off in the head but he means well so the three friends welcome him as one of their own. After checking in to Caesar’s Palace (“Is your hotel beeper friendly?” asks Alan) the quartet go up to the hotel’s roof for a toast before the evening’s festivities begin… and wake up the next morning with no idea what happened over the past twelve hours. The suite is a disaster area, chickens wander aimlessly, there’s a tiger in the bathroom and a baby in the closet, and most pressing of all… they’ve apparently lost Doug.
What follows is like a madcap Memento (imagine Leonard Shelby simulating bestiality and infant masturbation) as the friends try to work through their disjointed memories in search of the missing groom. Their quest brings them in intimate contact with a heart of gold stripper (Heather Graham), a naked, angry, and gay Asian gangster (Ken Jeong), missing teeth, police brutality, and a very funny cameo by Mike Tyson. The film lets loose with a non-step succession of action and one-liners, and while each of the three leads maintains different comedic styles they all compliment each other and the film beautifully. No part of the film overstays its welcome either with each bit lasting just long enough to incite copious laughs and giggles before moving on to the next. The baby is a perfect example of a prop that could have quickly grown tiresome, but no sooner does Alan reference Three Men & A Baby than the baby storyline is wrapped up. There are faults to be found in the movie for nitpickers… it’s more interested in male bonding and camaraderie over true character growth, there may not be enough heart on display for some folks (although Alan’s wolfpack speech atop the hotel is both sweet and hilarious), and Graham is wasted in a small role complete with unnecessary boob flash. Valid criticisms perhaps but all trivialized by the insanely high number of laughs coming from all directions… it is a fucking comedy after all.
The Hangover is a welcome return to form (and comedy) for director Todd Phillips. He debuted with the one-two punch to the funny bone of Road Trip and Old School then tragedy struck when he helmed the big budget Starsky & Hutch which paired Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson. Phillips’ downfall continued with the deliriously bad School For Scoundrels starring Billy Bob Thornton and Jon Heder. Looking at those four films it’s easy to see the two traits that separate his successes from his failures… ensemble casting and male bonding between friends. Both Road Trip and Old School featured groups of friendly characters made up of recognizable faces but no real name stars to speak of whereas his two follow-ups shrunk the leads per film to two and cast most of them with headliners. It’s not clear if ego took precedence over quality or if the scripts simply sucked, but neither of Phillips’ last two films were truly funny or fun. He presides over friendly ensembles with more confidence, control, and warmth, and the results are noticeably hilarious. The Hangover is the latest and most convincing piece of evidence towards this conclusion.
The script by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore serves as a fantastic jumping-off point for the characters and deserves praise as well. While pre-release interviews have highlighted several of the film’s funniest scenes as having been improvised on set (the masturbating baby for example), the script is still smartly written and structured beautifully as a comedic mystery of wildly epic proportions. Like a Coen Brothers film with neither murder nor noir the movie weaves multiple characters back and forth across each other’s paths while racing towards the conclusion. The comedy runs the gamut from physical slapstick as the trio gets tasered by children, to perfectly delivered dialogue and expressions, to visual gags involving condoms and satchels. It’s a definite step up for the writers who previously subjected the world to Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, Four Christmases, and Rebound.
The remaining and most relevant key to the film’s success is the cast. All three leads shine in the film and hopefully show Hollywood that big budget comedies don’t require members of the Judd Apatow troupe to succeed. Helms is probably the most recognizable comedic face due to his TV resumé. His role here may be more than a little reminiscent of Andy Bernard on “The Office” as the nice guy trying to lead a restrained life, but the film gives him the opportunity to cut loose and he obliges in grand fashion. Anyone smart enough to have watched the short-lived “Kitchen Confidential” has already seen Cooper excel at playing the sly and smooth straight man to the more exaggerated characters around him. He accomplishes more of the same here providing a less crazy center to his two manic wingmen. He’s leading-man material, depending on the script, and looks on the cusp of stardom if even one tenth of the casting rumors around him are true. And he does it while sporting an incredibly sexy head of hair too…
The revelation for many people will be Galifianakis which is a shame as that means so many of them have missed some seriously funny performances from the man. Not necessarily in his small roles from shitty and forgettable movies, but from his TV appearances, stand-up, and internet interview sensation “Zach Galifianakis Between Two Ferns.” He’s a master of blunt, obscure, and unwavering delivery, and so many of his lines in the film are brilliant non-sequitors and throwaways. He plays Alan as simple and kind yet hints at strange and disturbing layers. The simplest bits of dialogue become audible gold when spoken from his furry mound of a mouth, but he’s even damn funny when he’s mute… see the inspired nod to Rainman for further evidence.
The supporting cast is filled with recognizable faces like Jeffrey Tambor, Mike Epps, Rob Riggle, Jeong, and Graham. Jeong is sure to be accused of making Mr. Chow a gay/Asian stereotype, but the proof is in the merkin (which I believe and hope he was wearing during his full-frontal scene). Funny is funny. As mentioned above, Graham is a different story. Taking a cue from Pixar’s films, The Hangover doesn’t feature a single strong female character. Graham’s Jade is a stripper… but she’s really lovable and sweet! What a crazy juxtaposition! The other end of the feminine spectrum in the film is Stu’s nagging girlfriend Melissa (Rachael Harris). I can already hear Cole Abaius starting to whine and incite the masses… But come on people, it’s a film about guy friends bonding over guy stuff. All you bitches crying sexism can suck it. That said, the women in the film (aside from Cleo King) do not add to the guffaw factory that is The Hangover.
So move over Drag Me To Hell… 2009 has a new comedy king! It’s only June but I feel fairly confident calling The Hangover the funniest film of 2009. Bruno and Funny People seem like the only remaining films with a chance of beating it (the former more so than the latter), but I’m calling it now. Phillips assured directing, pitch-perfect leads and a multitude of hilarious smaller roles, Mike Tyson covering Phil Collins, and the outing of Galifianakis as a comedic genius all conspire to create one hell of a funny movie. I don’t know if it will hold up in a year’s time, but for right now it is by far the funniest piece of cinema in recent memory. Check out the trailer below if you haven’t yet, and then go see the movie. Just be sure to take a lesson from my mistake and remember to wear your rubber underwear.