Saturday, December 26, 2009
I saw The Hangover, now out on DVD, last night.
The movie is about a group of thirty-somethings who drive to Las Vegas for a bachelor party. But it is at heart a teen comedy, with the classic genre plot: a group of (theoretically adult) boys party a little too hard and irresponsibly and get into trouble.
The difference with this movie is that we don't see any of the wild partying, only the aftermath when the boys wake up to find they're in trouble, but can't remember the previous night. The premise works, because the clues eventually make (some) sense and most (though not all) of the loose ends are tied up at the end.
Most importantly, the movie obeys the number one rule of good filmmaking, which is that every word out of a character's mouth is something none of the others would have said. We laugh because we instinctively recognize the personality types, and think to ourselves, yeah, that's so so-and-so.
The least flawed personality seems to be Doug, the protagonist. We also see him the least, since he goes missing. The fact that he is supposed to get married the next day creates a sense of urgency.
His friend Stu, a dentist, is a grownup version of MacLovin, the character from Superbad. (There's even a slight physical resemblance.) A subplot revolves around Stu's theoretically soon-to-be fiancee, an extremely unpleasant woman. She is a very common type normally underrepresented in the movies, so it's good to see her onscreen in all her bitchy glory.
Another subplot involves a stripper/hooker, played by Heather Graham, whom Stu apparently meets during the night's festivities. She is the exact opposite of Stu's girlfriend back home: a hooker with heart of gold. Hookers with hearts of gold are about as realistic as those beautiful Hollywood superheroines who singlehandedly beat up gangs of thugs. Nonetheless, both types are normally overrepresented in the movies. But it's still good to see Heather Graham on the screen. (Does anyone have a good explanation for why she never quite graduated from starlet to star?)
The cool guy is Phil, the schoolteacher. We first see him calling his students nerds under his breath, a refreshing inversion of the usual teen comedy stereotype. Phil, as befits a slick operator, is also somewhat heartless, a point best demonstrated when the buddies find a baby in their hotel room, along with a tiger. Phil says they have to leave, and Stu points out that they can't leave the baby in the hotel room when there's a tiger there. Phil shrugs, "Why not? It's not our baby."
The most compelling character is Alan, Doug's future brother-in-law, who is constantly making inappropriate, lame, dumb comments. He seems to take a lot of things literally. The word "autistic" is never mentioned in the movie, but Alan's condition becomes apparent when it turns out that he has a special talent for card counting: a wonderful "aha" moment. (Alan had made an earlier reference to Rain Man as a "retard," but the foreshadowing -- which this movie does well -- was disguised by the way he mispronounced the word.) Alan is the butt of a lot of the movie's jokes. This brings up the question, is it okay to make fun of autistic people? Decent people would probably say no. (My vote is yes.)
Mike Tyson makes a slightly-longer-than-cameo appearance in the movie. He's not much of an actor, and comes across like a big kid tickled to be in a movie. He is a false note in a movie full of them; but because the false notes are such an integral part of the humor, they never jar. Tyson looks fat, underscoring what an advantage it is to have those outsize cheekbones, which allow you to still look fierce even when overweight. (That aura may also be helped by our knowledge that he was perhaps the most intimidating heavyweight of all time.)
The Asian gangster, Ken Jeong, plays to every stereotype of wimpy Asians. Probably in order to deflect accusations of racism, the filmmakers have Jeong's sidekick played by a handsome, manly Asian man in a mostly nonspeaking role.
And what better place to set a grownup teen comedy than Las Vegas? It allows the three thirty-something teenagers to behave like rock stars for a night, which, of course, is what Las Vegas is all about. Certainly every cliche about Vegas -- the Elvis background music, the luxury suite, the gambling, the drinking, the strippers -- is invoked in this movie.
Recommendation: Watch the movie, but have a drink or two beforehand.