Crazy nights and weekends are the stuff modern legends are made of. They do things like deprive you of money, give you interesting hickeys, or keep you from posting a regular blog feature on time. Most of the time, though, you at least have the benefit of remembering how you got into a situation where you need to delay a car payment or explain to your significant other the lipstick on your collar. Or shorts. The three gentlemen at the center of The Hangover, however, don’t have that luxury. The more they discover about the best night of their lives that they can’t remember, the more the audience discovers how surprisingly and raucously funny this movie is.
Normally I’d put the poster here, but I like this shot a lot more and it’s basically the same thing.
The set-up goes something like this: Doug is about to get married. His best man, a schoolteacher named Phil, is taking him to Las Vegas for his bachelor party. Along for the ride are mutual friend & dentist Stu, who is taking the opportunity to escape his shrew of a girlfriend for at least a few hours, and Doug’s brother-in-law-to-be, Alan, a character that can be most charitably described as “quirky.” Upon arriving in Vegas and changing for the night out, Phil takes the group to the roof, toasts with Jagermeister and says that no matter what happens, as far as anybody outside of the four of them are concerned, it didn’t happen. The next morning, Phil, Stu and Alan wake to find their hotel suite a wreck, a chicken wandering in the sitting room, a tiger in the bathroom and a baby in the closet. None of them can remember a thing. Stu’s lost a tooth, Alan’s lost his pants, and worst of all, Phil has lost Doug.
MovieBob has gone on record to say that good comedy is pretty much “review-proof.” You can’t talk at length about the movie’s nuances or artifice without giving away some of the humor and thus diluting the overall experience. Now, granted, Bob was talking about Hot Tub Time Machine which I saw the same night as The Hangover. In my opinion, Hot Tub is good (better than Grandma’s Boy to be sure) but The Hangover is exemplary. Why? Because while I was watching it, when I recovered from the latest fit of laughter, I found myself thinking, “Wow! Somebody actually bothered to write this damn thing!”
The chicken has all of the answers. Shame it can’t talk.
Now, not all comedy required a coherent or even realistic narrative through-line. What The Hangover does just as well as its jokes is show us what can be done when a comedy has a coherent, realistic narrative through-line. As the story unfolds, the film reveals itself not just as a good adult male bonding comedy but also something of a mystery story. And while this is a comedy, it’s not a shallow, easy-to-solve mystery that the Scooby-Doo gang could’ve knocked out. The characters need to piece together what happened over the course of that wild Vegas night, or the bride patiently preparing for the biggest day of her life won’t have a groom to marry. The film’s aware of the ticking clock and makes us aware of it, too, but not in such a way that it becomes too serious or overshadows the laugh. It’s a well-written, well-balanced and very funny script.
Now, it’s not a script that’s terribly original, outside of the ‘we don’t remember what the hell happened last night’ hook. And the characters are pretty stock – Phil’s the cool guy, Stu’s the henpecked guy, and Alan’s just plain weird. Yeah, they’re going to learn lessons about their lives in the midst of their caper, nothing new there. But what works is the fact that these characters, standard fare they may be, are presented with pretty straight-faced aplomb by the leads. Bradley Cooper in particular as Phil carries a lot of the movie, often being the voice of reason just moments after being the smirking handsome enabler of his less-fortunate friends. It’s the kind of thing you’d typically see Bill Murray or Vince Vaughn doing, but Cooper does it very well. Jeffrey Tambor and Heather Graham really shine as well in their supporting roles. The father-in-law character being understanding surprised me, and while the hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold did not, Heather’s still a great actress.
Alan looks a bit like a Jewish gangster in this shot, if you ask me.
I’m running out of things I can discuss without spoiling some very funny jokes, so here’s the last major point I’ll make: one thing that makes The Hangover work so well is a lack of contrivance. With a couple of exceptions, everything that happens in the movie does happen for a reason that makes sense. The presence of the tiger in the bathroom, the car that arrives when the guys hand in their valet ticket, the contents of the Mercedes’ trunk – none of it is resolved in a snap-of-the-fingers kind of way. There’s never a wink at the audience that lesser screenwriters would use to smooth over rough spots in the script.
This isn’t to say that The Hangover is free of flaws. There is a level of predictability to some of the situations, but the ones you don’t see coming will surprise you. The three leads are characters you’ve seen before, sure. But there are other characters and a well-hyped cameo that are surprises in and of themselves. A good joke that’s told well with the right timing is every bit as funny as it is when you first hear it. The Hangover does those jokes very well, and I was surprised at how much I liked it.
If you haven’t seen it already, do so. If you have, it might be worth watching again, especially with some friends who might not have had the privilege. When you do get the DVD from Netflix, though, can someone please tell me why the only difference between a theatrical release and an “unrated version” is a drastically increased amount of hairy man-ass?
Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.