The Hangover

[17 January 2010]

By Andrew Winistorfer

First thing’s first: Those stats. The Hangover has made more than $275 million in the US, and more than $450 million internationally. That tally made it the ninth most successful film of 2009, and by far the highest grossing R-rated comedy in US cinema history. On top of it, it’s the third highest grossing R-rated movie of all time, sitting only behind The Passion of the Christ and Matrix Reloaded.

So how could a cheap little movie that is in many ways, as our Todd Ramlow pointed out, a commercial for “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” debauchery, become one of 2009’s biggest pop cultural movements (apart from Twilight of course)? It’s not because of some deep thematic resonance, or even a wealth of transcendent scenes.

It’s because The Hangover was the only lasting comedy in a summer spent wading through the likes of ‘80s toy franchises (G.I. Joe and Transformers), ‘70s cartoon franchises (Land of the Lost), and only one cartoon movie worth a damn (Up). So in a way, I guess it’s better that no Caesar’s Palace receptionist is going to be able to work another shift without getting asked if Caesar ever lived there than having everyone in America quoting G-Force.

The Hangover DVD is what we expect out of every male-audience-focused broad comedy: there’s some mild nudity, more raunchy jokes than even most 12-year-olds will be able to stomach, some partially offensive ethnic stereotypes, the women aren’t so much as mistreated as nonexistent, and there’s Mike Tyson. The DVD release doesn’t mess with that formula in the least: the most notable special feature we get here is “missing photos” from the camera the main characters lost and a gag reel.

As for the movie itself: Justin Bartha is getting married. His two friends (Ed Helms and Bradley Cooper) and his brother-in-law-to-be (Zach Galifianakis) go to Vegas for his bachelor party. They blackout and lose Bartha, and spend the next two days retracing their steps. They find a tiger in their room. They meet Mike Tyson. They find Bartha after some tumult, and he gets married without a hitch. Credits. If you’ve seen any movie about two or three guys running around, you’ve seen The Hangover.

Hangover certainly subverts the “guys get drunk at bachelor party” arc by having a “guys try to remember what they did when they got drunk at bachelor party,” but it ultimately devolves into a parade of scenes of increasing goofiness. They fight an Asian gangster (played so stereotypically by Ken Jeong), one of them apparently married a stripper (played by Heather Graham), and they have to get Mike Tyson’s tiger back. 

Increasingly, it becomes less and less likely to buy any of the movie as reality. Well, that is unless you really are able to steal a cop car in Vegas, and maybe the doctors there do let out-of-towners into exam rooms with elderly patients, or drive around with a naked Asian guy in your trunk for some time without knowing it. Or drive a car with a rampaging tiger in the back seat through a tunnel. Maybe anything does go in Vegas. 

But there are some spots that transcend the rote nature of the film: Zach Galifianakis’ gonzo Alan walks with all the film’s memorable moments, from his asking about beeper-friendliness to his speech on the roof, and his Rain Man infatuation to his treatment of the baby they find in a closet. He can go broad at times, but anything that leads Dane Cook fans to discover Galifianakis’ obtuse comedic charms is welcome. Mike Epps and Mike Tyson’s brief cameos are also memorable, although the Tyson portion is a tad too one-note.

In some ways, The Hangover is the perfect time capsule item for 2009. It was a year we all wanted to be entertained than have to face the dreariness of our normal lives, what with the wars and the economy tanking, The Hangover, for better or worse, was the movie we went to when we needed a laugh. Plus The Hangover is the year’s most unlikely success story: It starred no one whom we could name, wasn’t an already familiar franchise, and was shot for the same price as Michael Bay’s robot-testicle animation budget for Transformers 2.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/118565-the-hangover/