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Hangover, The (2009) Print E-mail
Monday, 08 June 2009

I can’t remember the last time a comedy not starring Adam Sandler, Will Ferrell or Ben Stiller was hyped as much as The Hangover.  Why, I wondered, would Warner Bros. spend all this marketing cash on a Vegas buddy movie with no bankable star?  Now that I’ve seen the film, I know why.  It’s freaking hilarious.

If you haven’t seen the glut of commercials currently flooding a television set near you (and if you haven’t, you’re either really good with your Tivo remote or feel your time is better spent reading Dostoevsky and feeding the homeless, which, I’m sure it is but let’s face it – if that’s so, this film probably isn’t for you either), The Hangover is about three guys who, after a night of crazy bachelor party Sin City revelry, wake up to no memory and no poor sap about to be married.  Their fancy suite is trashed and offers a number of clues (some living and breathing) to what may or may not have happened the night before.   They must now retrace their steps in an attempt to find their buddy and get him to his wedding, which is now only 24 hours or so from taking place. 

Hangover start

We have all woken up at some point to a throbbing headache and wondered, “Dear God, what did I do last night?”  This film is the epic version of that morning.    It struck me as I watched, however this is not a novel idea.   Where, oh where, had I seen this before?  Then it hit me. This was essentially the same storyline as in a famed 2000 Ashton Kutcher/Seann William Scott stoner vehicle I once saw.  The Hangover could easily have been titled, “Dude, Where’s My Groom?”  Thankfully, however, the basic plot is where the similarities between the two films end.

It is beyond cliché to head to Las Vegas for a night or two of drunken silliness to celebrate a friend’s upcoming nuptials.   Instead of detracting from the film, however, the banality of the idea is exactly the point.  There is nothing special about the four main characters in the film.   They are just regular guys who want to take off, escape their lives for a night and have a good time.  Every band of buddies will see themselves in these guys and relate.  The characters are not stereotypes but archetypes, each filling roles so many of us encounter in our own groups of friends.  Phil Wenneck (Bradley Cooper) is the alpha, the guy who is slightly cooler than the others, who was probably way cooler in college, but is now just a schoolteacher with a wife and kid.  Stu Price (Ed Helms) is the omega, the one whose balls get busted the most, who goes along with whatever the others talk him into and who is dating an overbearing shrew.  And Alan Garner (Zach Galifianakis) is the goofball you somehow always get stuck with on these things, somebody’s cousin, or in this case, the bride’s brother.

Hangover breakfast

These three actors form a brilliant comedy trio – Ed Helms, who cut his teeth as a correspondent on the Daily Show, could not be more perfect as the whipped, downtrodden one; Bradley Cooper (yes, ladies, he is lovely to look at, both before and after his lip gets busted) solidly holds his own as the sarcastic straight man and Zach Galifianakis defines stealing the show in his genius performance.  I guarantee he is, at this moment, getting a call from every director currently casting a comedy in Hollywood.

While the guys were solving the mystery of their night on the town, I was busy trying to riddle me this:  How did a director (Todd Phillips) whose previous efforts include Starsky and Hutch, Road Trip and Old School (I know you guys love it, but come on, the humor was idiotic), writers (Jon Lucas & Scott Moore) whose biggest two films before this were Four Christmases and Ghosts of Girlfriends Past and a director of photography (Lawrence Sher) who’s mostly been mostly languishing in the comic ghetto (Dukes of Hazzard?) create something this smart, fresh, funny and beautiful?  This film looked more like Oceans 11 than What Happens in Vegas and I hope it starts a trend of more visually interesting big budget comedies.  I gave up trying to solve the mystery, however, and went back to enjoying the onscreen antics before me.

Hangover busted

This film is great fun from beginning to end.  Little moments and big throughout (I’ve avoided listing ANY of them in this review because I’m loathe to ruin even a second of this movie for you) are hilarious and it’s the best comedy I’ve seen in a long time.  Is The Hangover a perfect film?  Probably not.  To be perfectly honest, I don’t have a clue.  I was too busy laughing to notice.

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