At the end of the last century, it seemed that comedy was entering a
Renaissance. Several comedy films in that period combined
characterization, plot, brains, and raunchy laughs. In the course of just
two years (1998-99), moviegoers were able to see several great comedies
like The Big Lebowski, There's Something About Mary, Rushmore, Office
Space, and South Park. At least one of those (Lebowski) is clearly a
contender for the greatest comedy ever made, and all five of them are
distinctively original. After that spate of brilliant works, the comedic
soil of the new millennium seemed to be seeded with promise.
Unfortunately, that soil has not proved to be very fertile.
Most of the comedies of the current decade have been the usual guy
stuff aimed at frat boys and/or nerds. The Coens lost their senses of
humor; the Farrellys ran out of ideas; Parker and Stone concentrated on
their TV show; and the comedy scene has degenerated into an endless
80s-fest of predictable and generic "raunchy coming of age" and "slobs vs
snobs" comedies. There have really only been three truly brilliant,
original comedies in these ten years: Shaun of the Dead, Borat, and In
Bruges. Maybe four if you count The Royal Tenenbaums. There have been some
brilliant movies with funny elements, like Eternal Sunshine, Amelie, and
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, but those are not pure comedies. There have been some
very good cookie-cutter comedies with brilliant comic moments, like The
40-Year-Old Virgin, Anchorman, Tropic Thunder, Dodgeball, Role Models, and
several others, but we have not seen many examples of the kind of movie
that really has something new to add to the genre.
Despite the outrageously high IMDb rating (8.5 as I write this), The
Hangover is not one of those dazzlingly original films.
It is about four guys who go to Vegas for a bachelor party. Usual
The groomsmen wake up on the morning after the party with such
hangovers that they have no memory of the previous evening. As they get
their bearings, they eventually realize they have misplaced something
rather critical to the upcoming wedding - the groom. Given their
collective memory loss, it is no simple task to piece together what
happened to their missing friend. Their only hope is to follow the clues
available to them. One of them is wearing a hospital wristband. Another is
missing a tooth. More significantly, they have a baby in their closet, a
live tiger in their bedroom, a missing mattress, and an angry Mike Tyson
sitting at their piano, singing a Phil Collins song. When they begin to
follow the trail of evidence to places outside of their hotel, they try to
retrieve their car from valet parking. The valet does not bring them their
Mercedes convertible, but a police car.
And so on.
Even though this film journeys through familiar territory, two things
make it work:
1. The Hangover is willing to push to the very edge of taste and even
beyond. You can get a whiff of that from the set-up above, but there is
much more. The film really has no boundaries at all. In fact, I can't even
imagine how it managed to get an R rating. There is a scene in which a
pedophile ("I can't go within 200 yards of a school ... or a Chuck E
Cheese") is pretending to play with an infant's penis to amuse his
friends. There are naked men everywhere, in all shapes and sizes and ages.
There are lingering glances at a woman giving Zach Galifianakis a beejer -
dick and all. I suppose it is a stunt dick, but if your kids see the
scene, does it matter whether Mr. Happy is real or prosthetic? It looks
the same either way. This is a seriously raunchy film.
2. The Hangover does much more with its formula than you have any right
to expect if you go to films in which four guys go to Vegas for a bachelor
party. It spends a lot of time on characterization. It has an intricate
and involving mystery or two at its core. And it has a bizarre, outrageous
and hilarious performance from Zach Galifianakis as one of the four
principals. Zach's character and his performance are so wacked-out that
they make the entire film worthwhile and fill us with the goodwill
necessary to overlook some of the duller adventures encountered by our
lads on their way toward the groom's whereabouts.
Of course, one cannot give Galifianakis sole credit for the way his
character turned out. There are writers who gave him those lines, and
there was a director who realized that he was the ideal guy to deliver
those lines. Still one can't help but note that the film would be nothing
special without him. It's another take on "Dude, Where's My Car?"
And with him?
Well, as I already wrote, it's not one of those daringly fresh and
brilliant comedies we have been waiting for since the unfulfilled promise
of the late 90s. It falls into the "all other" line.
But it is absolutely in the front of that line.