A "Hangover" to relish

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Early last week, Laura and I were lucky enough to win an invitation to a preview screening of the new comedy The Hangover, which opens today. Having been seeing the commercials for weeks already, I was looking forward to the screening. From the little I'd seen, the film looked right up my alley. Laura was more cautious going in, especially when our host Capone (of aintitcool.com) gleefully warned us we were about to see some disturbing images.

I won't beat around the bush. The Hangover may be the funniest movie I've seen in my life. Okay, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but both Laura and I—and the rest of the audience—laughed so hard and loud that there was some dialogue we couldn't even hear. We hurt when we left the theater. I haven't laughed that hard at a movie since the first time I saw South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut.

The film is very cleverly written and structured. It follows a group of three men (Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis) who have taken their soon-to-be-married friend (Justin Bartha) to Las Vegas for an extended bachelor party. The three men wake up in the morning in a trashed hotel suite rife with clues that something big happened the night before, but with no memory of what that was. Oh, yes, and the groom is missing.

The main thrust of the plot details the friends' attempt to reconstruct the night's events and figure out where they lost track of the groom. Along the way, they meet not just a bevy of colorful characters and assorted weirdness, but also a good deal of violence. I'm tempted to drop hints about my favorite scenes—like the taser bit that just keeps getting funnier and funnier and funnier, even when the trailers have spoiled the final punchline—but I will resist the temptation. Given the media blitz that's been going on for weeks, you already know some of those bits, but that's only scratching the surface. You should go in with as clean a slate as possible.

As cunning as the screenplay is, it's Cooper, Helms, and Galifianakis that really make the film work. They are more than just funny. They've been allowed to create characters that are, in many ways, unlikeable. Cooper's character is that friend we all have who is charming and smarmy but always manages to make you feel like a pussy. Helms's character is henpecked and packs a really deep streak of ugly anger. And Galifianakis—let's just say that it takes some time to see that at the heart of his fearlessly offputting performance is a very sweet, innocent guy. But despite their frequent bickering, they still hang together and act relentlessly, even with heartbreaking bravery, to track down their missing friend. By the end of the movie, we feel a startling love for all these flawed, determined men.

Oh, and did I mention how fucking funny they are? And how fucking wrong this movie is? (Any movie that can get away with slamming a baby into a car door is okay in my book.)

I will admit that the laughter is not non-stop. A few short stretches of The Hangover do lag, but that's more than made up for by the intensity of the best sequences. (And by best I also mean most of the sequences.) The female characters in the film get short shrift also. The three important female characters essentially fit the archetypes of Virgin, Bitch, and Whore, and as winsomely enthusiastic as Heather Graham's performance is as the Whore, she is woefully underused. Mike Tyson's extended cameo is funny also, but seems more like a stunt than an integrated part of the movie. And the Asian stereotype wears a little thin.

But those are minor quibbles. The script plays very fair with the premise, piling complication on complication, and even providing an answer to the question of why no one can remember the previous night. I can't imagine seeing a funnier movie this year, or having a better time. Go see The Hangover. See it this weekend, with a big, enthusiastic crowd. Stay for the closing credits. And then go see it again so you can catch the lines people were laughing too hard to hear.

Some video links:

The real Caesar's Palace

Tiger in the bathroom

Stu's song

[ original post:  http://shunn.livejournal.com/492155.html ]

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This page contains a single entry by William Shunn published on June 5, 2009 6:51 AM.

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