The Hangover (2009)

(On DVD, June 2011) I’m just as surprised as anyone else that I lasted two years without seeing one of the cultural movie touchstones of 2009, the R-rated comedy that affirmed the dominance of the arrested-male-teenager as the comic archetype of the time.  I have little patience with the form and didn’t expect to like The Hangover much, but as it happens there’s quite a bit to like in its cheerfully anarchic approach to plotting, as it uses flashbacks, comic detective work and wild characters in one big pile.  Todd Phillips’ directing is assured and neatly guides viewers through a more complex narrative structure than is the norm for comedies.  It helps a lot that the characters are interesting in their own right: Bradley Cooper’s natural charisma transforms a borderline-repellent role into something nearly cool, while Ed Helms proves a lot less annoying than I’d initially guessed and Ken Jeong supercharges every single scene he’s in.  Small roles for Mike Tyson (not someone I’d hold as a role model) and Jeffrey Tambor also work well, although I still can’t think of Zach Galifianakis as anything but obnoxious (and discover retroactively that he played the same character in Due Date).  For all of the icky what-happens-in-Vegas immaturity, there are a few chuckles here and there: it’s hard to begrudge a film as likable as it is foul-mouthed.  Alas, I didn’t go completely crazy for the film: Fonder flashbacks to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (curiously unacknowledged) and the far funnier absurdist amnesia masterpiece Dude, Where’s My Car? held me back.  But comedy’s notoriously subjective, and it’s not as if I actually disliked The Hangover: I just found it a bit underwhelming, most likely conceived from assumptions that I don’t share.

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