It seems that every summer, Hollywood manages to churn out one bona-fide R-rated comedy to atone for every hoax it hoodwinked world audiences with. Last year, that comedy was Ben Stiller’s war-film spoof “Tropic Thunder. This year, it’s “The Hangover.
The rowdy, expeditious and downright hilarious buddy comedy successfully sidesteps the tired, over-romanticizing of Judd Apatow’s (“Knocked Up ) recent slew of bromances.
The story’s premise is quite simple: Three groomsmen (Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis) take a trip to Vegas with their soon-to-be-married best friend (Justin Bartha). After a night of heavy partying, they wake up the next morning to realize that the groom is AWOL 24 hours before his wedding ceremony and that they can’t recall what happened the night before.
The only clues they have are a loose tiger in the bathroom, a missing tooth, a hospital wristband and a baby. As they attempt to piece together the puzzling events of the night before and locate the groom, they find themselves caught in the middle of infinite bizarre situations, encountering a bevy of oddball characters that range from a naked Asian man (Ken Jeong) and stripper (Heather Graham) to Mike Tyson.
I’m not going to reveal any further details. The strength of “The Hangover lies largely in its unpredictability and freshness. Director Todd Phillips exploits the broad outlines of the “bachelor party gone wrong stencil to draft a desperate situation, augmented with increasing, successive conflicts which his three hapless characters find themselves stuck in.
Phillips doesn’t grant his characters a moment of break; the comedy of “The Hangover is like a high speed train that never slows down. The nature of the central conflict, the veiled mystery of what happened the previous night, gives Philips a vast space to venture in infinite directions. Instead of wasting time in showing what happened at the bachelor party, Phillips cuts straight to the chase and goes to the extreme.
His film blends several types of comedy: situational, character-driven and verbal. But there’s nothing calculated about the comedy, and it’s not subtle either. On the contrary, “The Hangover is big, loud and delectably crude. It treads on the thin line between political incorrectness and offensiveness, but hardly succumbs to the latter.
“The Hangover doesn’t mark a major departure for Philips, whose credits include “Road Trip (2000), “Old School (2003) and “Starsky & Hutch (2004). His dominant theme of grown men discovering their inner adolescence lies front and center in his latest film. Not only has Philips succeeded in refining his craft and expand his palette with incontrovertible inventiveness, he managed to assemble some of his most credible characters to date.
The chemistry between the three leads sizzles. Each effortlessly carries his own weight by emphasizing their differences instead of falling into the stereotyping trap. Cooper’s cocksure Phil sees his overconfidence smashed to the ground as his anxieties start to rise to the surface. Helms’ nerdy, neurotic dentist Stu is pushed out of his comfort zone and thrown into a bizarre wasteland where he’s forced to evaluate his monotonous life.
Galifianakis is the true revelation of the film. Exuding with a child-like innocence, Galifianakis’s short, beardy and pudgy Alan, the groom’s brother-in-law, is a needy, naïve loner desperate for companionship and adventure. Galifianakis’ performance – which’s been rightfully compared to John Belushi’s star-making turn in Harold Ramis’ “Animal House – brims with imposing energy that, nevertheless, doesn’t hijack the attention away from the other characters.
“The Hangover is an ideal summer vehicle; capricious, unfuzzy and pure fun. The bond the three leads cultivate is quite endearing and the resolution, thankfully, isn’t hampered by the usual excessive sentimentality; the film is simply too fast-paced to allow that.
It’s definitely not the best comedy of the year, but it’s a perfect example of what happens when Hollywood gets it right, which’s so rare these days.
The one news item that seems to have captivated the international film press this month is the death of American director/scriptwriter John Hughes a week ago. Director of some of the most iconic American teen classics of the 80s, Hughes didn’t only express the anxieties, fears and vulnerability of teenagers, he spoke to them, understood them, treated their concerns with respect and, most importantly, with seriousness.
Without a doubt, Hughes was the voice of an entire generation.
For the past week, I’ve been incessantly scurrying message boards and endless stream of obituaries some of the biggest film critics in the world contributed. I was touched by some, deeply moved by others.
“I felt a part of my childhood was taken away from me, one fan wrote. “I can’t fathom the middle of my teenage years without the art that John Hughes gave to us, another commented. “Upon learning about John’s death, another fan wrote, “I cried, for the teenager I was and for the teenager my daughter is, and for the strength I needed and she needs to make it through that.
The most tear-jerking tribute I’ve read is that of Alison Byrne Fields, a 39-year-old woman who had a two-year written correspondence with Hughes in the mid-80s. “Tonight, when I heard the news that John had died, I cried, Fields wrote on her blog. “I cried for a man who loved his friends, who loved his family, who loved to write and for a man who took the time to make a little girl believe that, if she had something to say, someone would listen.
The one tribute that really got me was an appraisal by New York Times’ senior film critic A. O. Scott entitled “The John Hughes Touch.
In it, Scott called Hughes the Godard of his generation; “The filmmaker who crystallized our attitudes and anxieties with just the right blend of teasing and sympathy. In the last paragraph, Scott writes: “[The death of Hughes] makes me aware of belonging to a generation that has yet to figure out adulthood, for whom life can feel like a long John Hughes movie.
He then refers to the Spandau Ballet song, playing in the dance scene of “Sixteen Candles (1984). “You remember the lyrics, even if it’s been years since you heard them last. This is the sound of my soul. I bought a ticket to the world, but now I’ve come back again. Why do I find it hard to write the next line?
I don’t have much to add to these eloquent tributes, primarily because I didn’t become conscious of Hughes works until my junior year in college. I grew up in the 90s, a time when the teen movie genre was dumbed down to nothing more than clichés and phony characters that we never connected with. On the other hand, the crumbling Egyptian cinema of the time was populated with aging stars who stood at a remote distance from us.
For the most part of my teen years, the one film I found myself in was Nicholas Ray’s “Rebel Without a Cause (1955). It wasn’t until 2001 when the film Gods finally gifted us with three movies that captured the essence of our young lives: Richard Kelly’s “Donnie Darko, the film that came to define the spirit of my generation, Terry Zwigoff’s “Ghost World, and, on a more personal level, Shunji Iwai’s “All About Lily Chou-Chou.
Before them, there was nothing. Problem was, I turned 19 and adolescence was becoming a memory.
When I discovered Hughes best films, “Sixteen Candles, “The Breakfast Club, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and the underrated “Some Kind of Wonderful, I was taken aback by their emotional honesty, how they cut deep into roots of the youth’ troubles. Hughes created a space for teens to take refuge in; a haven occupied by characters no different than them. The struggle for identity, for adjusting to adulthood, and for overcoming the pains of growing up wasn’t shared alone.
Adolescence has rarely been an easy ride; it’s a phase laden with uncertainty, angst and never-ending apprehension. Reading Scott’s tribute, I somehow felt envious. I’m not qu
ite sure if we ever outgrew this period. Deep down, perhaps we’re still the same teen, attempting to fit in, vying for the world to accept our differences and find our place in it.
Like Scott, a sense of nostalgia has overtaken me, and not necessary the happy kind. At least Scott and Fields had their John Hughes; we didn’t.