Second Look Film Review: The Hangover

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Who let the dogs out?

(The Hangover, Todd Phillips, USA, 2009, 100 mins)

It would be naïve to believe that four best friends on a bender in Vegas who end up having Mike Tyson’s tiger in their bathroom and a baby in the closet isn’t going to be comical. The Hangover was damn right hilarious. It’s title illuminates the experiences many of us go through after a heavy Friday night dancing to some outrageously made club music. Unpredictable due to the amount of action that is kept from us, and at times a little gut wrenching as we watch the consequences of their night out, The Hangover won a Golden Globe Award for a reason, most likely because any man on this planet would dive for the chance to end up in situations like that and see it through.

Despite the frustration, terror, chases, drinking and gambling the main theme of the importance of friendship shines through as the four friends celebrate the marriage of their friend Doug (Justin Bartha) by going to Vegas for his stag night. At the beginning of the film, as Phil (Bradley Cooper) proclaims, “Listen, we fucked up. We lost Doug” to Doug’s wife; a scene that appears to be from later in the film, the audience can assume this is going to be a complex journey as we are filled with anticipation and suspense to find out what has really happened to Doug Billings.

Director Todd Phillips has delivered several fantastically funny films, such as Old School (2003) and Road Trip (2000) both supplying us with the hilarity of Vince Vaughn, Seann William Scott and Will Ferrell.  However, it could be argued that The Hangover wasn’t much of a comedy at all, as it results in being more sentimental than overly funny. The target audience of The Hangover are likely to be the males who enjoyed Old School; relating to the characters once again escaping their strict, domestic, married lifestyles, but this does not overrule entirely, as women can revel in the quick witted comments also.  Phillips cameoed in The Hangover as the man in the lift wearing a moustache and sunglasses, and on first viewing this may not have been noticeable to the audience, as Phillips has focused strongly on comic detail. There’s always a facial expression or background noise you didn’t quite catch, such as the chicken resting on the piano as Stu (Ed Helms) sings his song, or Alan (Zach Galifianakis) shaking his hair like a girl as they walk out of the hotel, adding to the characteristic of him being unlike the other men, more immature and laid back.

On the first viewing it was disappointing that we didn’t get to actually watch their night out in Vegas, which could have been the height of the plot, but the narrative is something I’ve grown to appreciate, as we watch these four best friends put the puzzle pieces of their night back together in incredibly surprising ways that keep the laughs coming. Having the photos at the end accompanying the credits leave us to our own judgements of the hidden narrative, and the camera techniques assist us in our discoveries, as we watch the characters on CCTV, from the back and front seat of their Mercedes Benz Cabriolet, on the floor, and with some rather quirky movements which make you feel rather sick yourself.

Within the first half an hour of the film we can already read the personalities of the characters, and all four actors play up to this throughout (except Doug, who doesn’t get to do much when he’s stuck on the roof). Nevertheless, at the end of the film we see a dramatic difference in each man, as they have conquered the characteristic (or controlling bitch in Stu’s case) that brought them down, increasing what was just an average friendship, but what could be argued as self-discovery rather than a hard-core bachelor party. Phil (Bradley Cooper) appears to be a controlling friend; he takes charge of the hotel booking and responsibility for calling Doug’s wife, similar to the character of Seth (Jonah Hill) in Greg Mottola’s comedy Superbad (2007) who bosses his best friend around.

Zach Galifianakis depicts the perfect inner child as Alan, with his sheer stupidity he comments on his choice of bag, “It’s where I keep all my things. Get a lot of compliments on this. Plus it’s not a purse, it’s called a satchel. Indiana Jones wears one”.  The clash between Alan and the rest of the men is the element that pushes this film to be comical; Alan doesn’t have any friends, he knows nothing about women, and his pronunciation of words in such a mature environment is something intellectual audiences will find amusing. Thankfully for some, the childish remarks decrease, and this is respectfully swiped to one side as he becomes a sophisticated mysterious gambler, despite remaining quite the pervert. Here we see the echo of the gambling scene from Rain Man (1988) as they hover down the escalator in suits, suggesting the target audience would be a mixture of generations to truly appreciate the reference.

Through these backwards events, we come face to face with a group of bizarre and slightly camp Asian gangsters, a kind hearted but very dumb hooker, and not forgetting Mike Tyson himself. Looking closer, it was debatable in some respects whether the comedy was being taken too far, particularly with the baby from the closet. Do the audience really want to watch a baby being made to jack himself off? What about being hit in the face with a car door? It’s almost nonsense, but then isn’t a naked Chinese man in the boot of your car?

The soundtrack was one the filmmakers should be proud of, ranging from “Who Let the Dogs Out” to Kanye and Rihanna, to Phil Collins and Ed Helms himself. They reflect the idea of four guys’ bigging up Vegas; I felt myself singing along on my first viewing, although not so much to Tyson’s version of Phil Collins. Alan’s little song “Three Best Friends” mirrored his character well, showing he was insecure from not really being close to anyone and that he relied on other people a lot, which is purely what the undertone of this film is about. The CGI and green screen usage was amazing, if I had not watched the special features on the DVD I would never have guessed the view from their room wasn’t real. Call me silly, but it was a jaw dropping view. The narrative structure is full of new problems and fresh characters, and through the pain of watching Stu (Ed Helms) lose his tooth and the group stealing a police car, it’s an unusual comedy that will be hard to beat.


2 Responses

  1. steve white says:

    Can’t help but think you shot yourself in the foot by completely omitting any mention of the fact that a sequel is forthcoming – would have been more interesting for you to muse on how that will/might work…

  2. Vicki Thurley says:

    Fair point, however I was trying to concentrate on the film at hand and would probably have ended up straying off topic. Thank you for the suggestion nonetheless; I am personally quite anxious about the sequel because I’m afraid that the element of comedy may be a little forced, plus I am curious as to what situation is going to beat a man’s stag night in Vegas. On the other hand, looking at Phillips’ new film Due Date I don’t think the sequel will be too disappointing as he appears to be quite subtle when leading up to a humorous moment in his films.