Again and Again
As Stu Price (Ed Helms) prepares to join his pals for a bachelor party in Las Vegas, he faces the usual barrage of accusations from his stereotypically cold, controlling girlfriend. In Melissa’s (Rachel Harris) estimation, “Boys and their bachelor parties, it’s gross.” Indeed it is, and The Hangover is yet another cinematic celebration of piggy boy grossity.
Stu’s friends are the requisite sad sacks, losers, and weirdoes that populate the genre. Phil Wenneck (Bradley Cooper) is totally disenchanted with marriage and fatherhood, spends his days grifting cash out of the prep school boys he teaches, and generally whines on and on about how his life sucks. Boo-hoo. Stu is the nerdy dentist with the castrating bitch of a fiancée, and Alan (Zach Galafianakis) the not-all-there brother of the bride-to-be who will eventually endear himself to the other boys with his quirky ability to take abuse.
The girls certainly don’t fare any better. In addition to the “feminazi” Melissa, there’s the patient, loving bride Tracy (Sasha Barrese), who doesn’t ask any questions and forgives all as long as Doug (Justin Bartha) promises not to do anything like this again, even if she doesn’t know what that “like this” is. And Heather Graham (poor thing, that she has been reduced to this) plays an honest to god, cookie-cutter “hooker with a heart of gold” named Jade.
Clearly, character development doesn’t matter in The Hangover, as the boys only exist to abuse and be abused in Nevada’s all-night playground. In this regard, the film feels like a long promotional ad from the “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” tourist board. That very slogan, or variations of it, is actually repeated several times during the movie, as it participates in the city’s promises of transgression. The problem is that these excesses are totally prepackaged commodities, just as The Hangover promises spectacular gross-out humor and delivers only by-the-numbers stupidity. So Vegas is reduced to the “deviance” of titty bars, drugs, alcohol, and gambling, and The Hangover offers an endless litany of pissing, vomiting, and senseless, banal brutality.
The Hangover does come close to some sort of self-awareness, of itself as a trashy buddy flick and of Vegas as simulacrum of excess. After Phil, Stu, and Alan are arrested for stealing a police cruiser, Officers Franklin (Rob Riggle) and Garden (Cleo King) tell the boys that they are intimately familiar with their type, yokels who come to town all “Vegas! Woo-hoo!!” and proceed to engage in the most sophomoric and idiotic behaviors, usually leading to some sort of arrest. Case in point, our heroes.
But for all The Hangover‘s self-referential celebration of male vulgarity, insipid misogyny, and casual homophobia, it was even more disheartening to watch the eager participation of the audience at the screening I attended. And what got the most laughs from that audience? The fag jokes. At one point Phil admonishes his friends not to text message him, because “it’s gay.” He summons Stu to come out of his house by yelling, “Paging Dr. Faggot” repeatedly from the car. Apparently these jokes still get audiences rolling in the aisles. Ultimately, The Hangover is only the symptom of a larger cultural pathology, the pleasures offered by patriarchal bullshit and intolerance. Until we stop laughing collectively and out loud at crass fag jokes, films like The Hangover will be made again and again.