Cast your mind back to the hazy days of the late noughties. Judd Apatow had been pretty much owning the blockbuster comedy genre with The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, and Superbad – the latter of which grossed over $33 million in its opening weekend in the US. Audiences were lapping up puerile, gross-out humour like never before. Geeky, awkward antiheroes became a staple of Hollywood comedies. Then, in 2009, along came Todd Phillips’ The Hangover. Phillips was known for the likes of Road Trip and Starsky & Hutch, neither of which exactly set the comedy world alight. With a storyline centered solely around a stag party, and the tagline “Some guys just can’t handle Vegas”, The Hangover should’ve been a mediocre, fairly forgettable success. Instead, it was a box-office smash hit that spawned two lucrative sequels.
The storyline was fairly simple: Four guys go to Vegas for a stag weekend and somewhere along the way manage to lose the stag. But the twist? You never get to see what happens that night. One minute they’re having their first drink of the evening, and then suddenly it’s the next day. There’s a chicken wandering around their hotel suite, someone’s lost a tooth, and there’s a tiger camped out in the bathroom. They’ve got guys with guns threatening them over something that may or may not have happened, one of them has accidentally got married, and to top it all off, a mystery baby has somehow been left in one of the cupboards.
The whole joy of the film comes from following the three remaining men as they desperately try to find their friend before his wedding day, with no idea where they even went the night before. While the film may have the same infantile, ridiculous humour as the likes of Superbad, the main joke is the fact that these are grown men that have got themselves into this situation. Phil (Bradley Cooper) is a married man with kids, and Stu (Ed Helms) is a dentist with a long-term girlfriend at home. They should both know better and yet here they are trying to piece together 12 hours that they’ve lost.
As with most good comedies, there is one standout performance that manages to lift the film to great heights. In the role of Alan, Zach Galifianakis landed his first major movie part. He’d previously found minor success in TV comedies and with smaller film roles, but The Hangover was Galifianakis’ big break at the age of 40. With limited social skills and an overwhelming desire to be loved and accepted, Alan is the character that manages to flip a scene on its head and say the exact thing that is on his mind without any kind of filter. With a penchant for not wearing trousers and a warped sense of humour, Alan is the star of The Hangover. Without him, well, they wouldn’t have had any kind of hangover at all. Underneath the strange appearance and outrageous lines lies a man who is actually terribly insecure and desperate to fit in with his new brother-in-law’s best friends. Galifianakis manages to bring another layer to his character that you don’t find with the others, all the while walking around with his Y-fronts on and allowing himself to be tasered by a child.
The one downside to the carefree humour of The Hangover? It manages to completely leave the supporting female characters out. In the same vein as Knocked Up, all of the women in the film are, sadly, painted out to be humourless, manipulative, and two-dimensional. That’s aside from Heather Graham as Jade playing the ‘hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold’ character, and unfortunately, not much else. Even she’s not allowed to get any laughs, aside from her breastfeeding her baby which is, supposedly, very funny.
It was never supposed to be clever or sophisticated, but The Hangover managed to become one of the standout hits of the late noughties. Unfortunately, The Hangover Part II and Part III did not fare so well. Part II was a carbon copy of the first instalment, and Part III focused on a stale and unfunny kidnapping plot. Director Todd Phillips has broken away from the series now, with his new film War Dogs hitting cinemas on August 26th. With Jonah Hill heading up the cast, it’s sure to be a commercial success, but whether it will reach the heights of the first Hangover instalment, who knows?