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Thursday, August 27, 2009

"The Hangover": inexplicably enormously successful


I am not sure I am fully prepared for the shit storm I'm about to bring onto myself, but it needs to be said.

"The Hangover" was not that funny.

That's not to say I didn't appreciate it, in fact quite the opposite. It was somehow gratifying to see Todd Phillips strike gold with a cast of relative unknowns. "The Daily Show" and "The Office" alum Ed Helms. "Comedians of Comedy" scene-stealer Zach Galifianakis. "Wet Hot American Summer" jaw-line Bradley Cooper. That dude that played the groom.

I've long been a fan of the stand up of Galifianakis, ever since seeing him live in 2003 when he opened for Janeane Garofalo at my university. I'd never seen anything like it. His utterly deadpan delivery, stream-of-consciousness turn-of-phrase quips, and willingness to get as silly or highbrow as necessary for a laugh, is truly something to see, especially if he comes back on stage to acknowledge a standing ovation without any pants. If you have Netflix, incidentally, you can watch both the aforementioned documentary "The Comedians of Comedy" or his special "Live at The Purple Onion" with the Watch It Now feature. Come back when you're finished.

Without Zach Galifianakis along for the ride, punctuating scenes with his absurdity, this movie would have been just another comedy to drop out of the box office by week number three. Phillips' bold decision to showcase Zach, combined with the fact 2009 has been an awfully weak year for comedies, is what I attribute to "The Hangover" becoming the summer phenomenon it turned out to be.

Let me repeat that - an overall weak year for mainstream comedies, and the non-sequitor genius of Zach Galifianakis, is why this movie worked.

I saw "The Hangover" with a bunch of buddies opening weekend. We were in a packed theater, and we'd prefaced the show with a few rounds of drinks. I even had a little supply on hand to spike our Diet Cokes (we're very health conscious) as necessary. This packed theater, with a half-row of buzzed comedy fans, on opening weekend of an anticipated movie that didn't yet have the opportunity to be ruined by water-cooler conversation, was, for the most part, silent the duration of the movie.

There were no explosive group guffaws. Just scattered chuckles. The closest the theater got to hysterics was the final slide show with Zach in the elevator getting the full "Brown Bunny" treatment, and it was more shock and disgust than laughter.

Phillips' two previous best efforts, "Old School" and "Road Trip", stand above "The Hangover" in my mind for two reasons - better overall plot lines from start to finish, and bigger laugh moments. Think Will Ferrel streaking or lighting himself on fire, or Tom Green trying to compel a snake to eat a mouse. "The Hangover" with all its wandering and only intermittently amusing detours, feels sluggish in comparison. And, sadly, the movie's biggest asset, Galifianakis, could be considered its biggest detractor as well. His comedy and delivery is funny because it's so incredibly deadpan, muted, and absurd. Instead of ramping up the movie, though, it often pumps the brakes. And when Galifianakis is the biggest driving force behind a scattered hit-and-miss plot, that just makes for an okay comedy.

TOO MUCH: Mike Tyson, Rob Riggle subplot, undeserved media hype

COULD HAVE USED MORE: Heather Graham (only because I've had a wild crush on her since "Swingers", and weird sexual fantasies about her since "Boogie Nights"), rewrites, Bradley Cooper improvisation

FILM SNOB NOTE: Todd Phillips was, in the words of comedian Patton Oswalt, in 'comedy jail' due to "School For Scoundrels" and barely got this movie green lit. Since the success of "The Hangover", he's flush with eleven projects in the pipeline. Also, this is possibly funnier than anything Cooper and Zach did in the movie.

IHYFM RATING: THREE out of FIVE MEHS

IF YOU TOLD ME THIS WAS YOUR FAVORITE MOVIE, I'D THINK: This was the only comedy you'd ever seen.

Think I'm wrong? Let me have it in the comments.

6 comments:

  1. Can't argue with you here. For all of its amusing intrigue and occasional sublime outlandishness, and even as entertaining as it was on a base level, The Hangover fell pretty flat when it came to ACTUAL REALIZED HA-HA's.

    The only water-cooler talk I encountered after seeing it referenced to the photo-montage during the credits, and the sad-but-true "Who WAS that guy?" reaction from those uninitiated to Galifianakis who clearly didn't see him coming (although, seriously-- if you had even accidentally spied him on the poster, half-scowling, Blue-Blockers glinting in the golden Vegas sunshine, matching baby bjorned tightly-but-somehow-loosely around his prodigious torso, you had to have SOME sense of what was in store). I'm thrilled that someone figured out how to use him, though. I'd hate to see him spiritlessly chasing around CG gerbils for the rest of his days...

    Film-snob moment that you missed: Todd Phillips's now-compulsory Hitchcockian (no pun intended) perv-cameo as the dude getting his Siegfried Roy'd in the elevator for absolutely no reason.

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  2. I vaguely recall the Siegfrieding of Phillips' Roy. From sucking Amy Smart's toes to asking Luke Wilson about the gangbang, I'm a little afraid for where the next Hitchingcock goes.

    Let's hope that Galifianakis doesn't fall into the David Cross film career - I'd much rather see him go back to his supporting roles a la "Out Cold" or even his bizarre "Into The Wild" cameo. Don't let that meat rot, indeed.

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  3. I saw it with a very different audience; they were laughing the whole time. Of course, that was in the state of Texas...

    Still, I thought it was funny. Not the best movie ever, but worth the price of admission, for sure.

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  4. I have heard things are bigger in Texas?

    Agreed, it was fine - but does it really belong in the IMDB top 250?

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  5. What is popular is not always right...

    Maybe part of it, along with timing, was that we haven't had many truly funny comedies lately. Without comparison, what we've got looks bigger and more impressive...

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  6. I may have to do a focus on Ken Jeong and his characters from this and from "Role Models". The basic breakdown is that "The Hangover" goes for the easiest laughs.

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