(Z To A is an ongoing series: cumulative reviews of my DVD collection in reverse alphabetical order.)
Plot Synopsis: They planned a Vegas bachelor party that they would never forget. Now they really need to remember what exactly went down! Whose baby is in the closet of their Caesars Palace suite? How did a tiger get in the bathroom? Why is one of them missing a tooth? And most of all, where is the groom? What the guys did while partying can’t compare to what they must do sober in an outrageous caper that has them piecing together all their bad decisions from the night before- one hazy clue at a time.
– From DVD Production Notes
It’s a shame that The Hangover isn’t a stand alone film. Its successors were for the most part unnecessary and kind of insulting (you can read my review for Part II here). If the story had been left as it was my feelings wouldn’t be as tarnished. But still, I own it on DVD.
And, of course, I’m here to explain why.
It’s not just because it’s funny. The way I saw The Hangover is different than most. I went to see Zach Galifianakis (I’d been a fan since 2005) but left with more than I expected. It’s about four guys who act like morons and suffer serious repercussions because of it. There are times they’re scared shitless, frustrated and completely exhausted. By the end it appears their experiences have changed their priorities and they have gotten a ton of idiocy out of their system. They may even have a shot at being decent human beings.
But that was 2009. By 2013 that ship had sailed.
For now let’s just pretend that never happened. The film opens and introduces us to four men on their way to a bachelor party in Vegas- bridegroom Doug (Justin Bartha), his future brother-in-law Alan (Galifianakis) and his best friends Phil (Bradley Cooper) and Stu (Ed Helms). With the exception of Doug each of them have issues or are dissatisfied with their lives. Phil is the most vocal about this and quickly takes the lead, pushing them to get messed up as soon as possible.
On the other hand his companions are just excited to be going anywhere, in particular Alan, who as a character remains a mystery to me. Just what is Alan’s deal? A part of me wants to blame indulgent parenting, but there has to be more to it than that. Alan is a perpetual child and no one could have played him like Galifianakis did. He has literally no sense of propriety or adulthood.
Not surprisingly it’s Alan who inadvertently sets things into motion. What follows unfolds somewhat like Memento, only everyone gets roofied instead of amnesia. A night to remember becomes a complete blank. Oh, irony.
However, that’s where the fun begins for the audience and the nightmare begins for these characters. The following morning depicts a post-bender Stu in a way that’s almost like Requiem For A Dream– disorientation, agony, confusion and embarrassment. It’s funny how people tend to forget these guys feel like absolute shit while they’re trying to get a handle on things.
And how do they go about doing that? Poorly, of course.
For the record they also leave that baby in a car. Chew on that. These characters kind of deserve to be in a world of hurt.
What’s interesting is watching them evolve over the next forty-eight hours. It turns out that Phil actually cares more than he lets on. Alan repeatedly proves that he can’t fit in and is really scared that Doug is dead.
Stu’s transformation is the most drastic. It seems that beneath his passive, rule-abiding nature is a hedonistic party animal who will pull out his own teeth with pliers and marry a woman he has just met. This could be seen as him lashing out at his domineering and unfaithful girlfriend, Melissa (Rachael Harris), but he is genuinely horrified by his actions.
The payoff is that all of this makes Stu finally stand up for himself. When he breaks up with Melissa he doesn’t chew her out or insult her, but simply speaks the truth: “You’re…. eerragh- such a bad person! Like, all the way through to your core.”
(Side note: I don’t want to wrangle with the portrayal of women in this movie because it’s kind of hopeless, dumb, and- sadly- done to death. However, this breakup had to happen and watching it is very satisfying.)
Considering what all four of them have been through, this turn of events isn’t surprising. When you’ve been scared to death, run up nearly $60,000 in damages and taken responsibility for being an ass, you just might make a turnaround.
It’s on that note that the film ends. Doug is returned to his fiance and tells her, “All I know is I am so sorry. And I promise for as long as we’re married to never, ever put you through anything like this again.” In the meantime Phil is actually happy to see his wife and is last seen carrying his sleeping child. Stu is newly single and Alan… well, he’s going to see The Jonas Brothers.
Within the confines of this first film these guys have actually changed for the better. They’re also ready to put things behind them, “deleting” the past in the form of the digital photos found on Stu’s camera.
Overall The Hangover succeeds because it’s funny. But it’s also like a late-blooming, coming of age, stop-being-an-ass step toward adulthood.
But then the other films followed, wiping that slate clean.