Winner of the 2010 Golden Globe Award: Best Picture Comedy or Musical
The best news about Todd Phillips' new comedy The Hangover being so funny is that it will hopefully make major stars out of comedians Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis. The movie, like Phillips' Old School before it, is a celebration of everyday men and their boys-will-be-boys bad behavior. Only, in this case, things get way out of hand. It's incredibly vulgar, sometimes dark and often fearless. It's also the funniest movie of 2009 so far.
Helms and Galifianakis star along with Bradley Cooper and Justin Bartha as a group of friends who head off to Las Vegas for Bartha's bachelor party. Three of the friends -- minus Bartha -- wake up in their hotel room to discover that the groom-to-be has gone missing. The rest of the film is devoted to the guys piecing together the previous night's debauchery, which none of them can remember. And since every new revelation should remain a surprise, I'll avoid discussing them here (the trailers do a poor job of concealing many of them, so avoid the advertisements if that's even possible). Needless to say, the boys managed to pack quite a bit into one night.
Discovering Zach Galifianakis
What I like about The Hangover is that it's willing to be crude and non-PC without wasting a lot of time celebrating its own edginess. The jokes that go over the top aren't meant to shock you, they're meant to make you laugh (that is, until the end credits, at which point all bets are off). Too many studio comedies spend so much time either playing it safe or pushing too hard to make a statement. The Hangover always puts funny first.
The real find here is Zach Galifianakis as the more-than-slightly-off Alan. As one of the original Comedians of Comedy, he's been one of my favorite stand-ups for years -- there's no one currently doing absurdist humor better. I may also be one of the few people alive that both saw and really enjoyed his performance in the 2001 snowboarding comedy Out Cold. That movie may have largely been a train wreck (though it has more than it share of moments, I swear), but he stood out like a shining beacon of hope, wringing laughs out of just about every line delivery. So it's nice that in The Hangover, the rest of the film is finally as funny as Galifianakis. He still manages to shine, and I suspect is the character people will leave the theater still talking about. If this movie did nothing but bring more attention to him as a comedian and an actor, I would be happy. Lucky for us, it manages to be a good movie on top of that.
Like in Old School (still one of my favorite comedies of the decade), director Phillips makes The Hangover work because he builds humor out of both character and situation. These are funny people doing funny things, and we are not meant to simply laugh at them -- many times, we're laughing with them. It's another strong three-man ensemble, with each actor finding a different way to be funny. If Old School is still the superior film (and I think that it is), it's because those characters were a little better drawn; funny as they are, all three members of The Hangover's main ensemble have a tendency to become a bit one-note at times. It's never long before they snap out of it and catch us off guard, meaning the film's dead spots are few and far between.
I haven't even mentioned the supporting cast, which includes Ken Jeong (of Role Models), Rob Riggle, Mike Epps, Matt Walsh and more. Most of them only get a few moments of screen time, but all manage to make the most of it. Even Heather Graham proves that, yes, she is still making movies.
The Hangover has its problems. Like any comedy that's clearly been heavily tested, you can feel many of the cuts; small plot lines and character bits seem to have been dropped. It's nothing that's going to take away from the movie, which is one of the few comedies I can think of in recent years that actually lived up to the promise of its excellent trailer. Thank you, Todd Phillips, for making a comedy that's as adult as it is juvenile. Thank you for making with the funny. Mostly, though, thank you for taking a chance and casting actors like Galifianakis and Ed Helms. They weren't bankable movie stars before The Hangover, but they're pretty pitch perfect in the film and it's about time more people found out just how funny they are. Here's hoping they're getting their own films by this time next summer.
- The Hangover is Rated R for pervasive language, sexual content including nudity and some drug material.
- Running Time: 100 minutes
- Release Date: June 5, 2009