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'The Hangover'

Ninety minutes with my head in the toilet.

By Dorothy Woodend 12 Jun 2009 | TheTyee.ca

Dorothy Woodend writes about film for The Tyee every other Friday.

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They're in Vegas. Cue the nausea.

I didn’t have many expectations of The Hangover. At best, I thought it might have a few faint smiles, perhaps a chuckle or two. In fact, I sat in stone-faced disgust; a yawning bleakness threatened to overwhelm me throughout the film. "Am I here all alone?" I thought. Apparently so, because everyone else in the theatre, judging by their laughter, appeared to be having a great time. What, I wondered, is going on here?

Directed by Todd Phillips (Road Trip, Old School ), The Hangover's central premise concerns the bachelor night shenanigans of a certain fellow named Doug. A blander milquetoast is hard to imagine; it's like he was poured from a vat of central casting pink goo into a ready-made mold, fitted with a nice set of shining white teeth and chiseled jaw. Doug is the most boring movie character I've seen in a very long time (but then, I've been in film festival land, for the past while, and thus somewhat out of touch with what passes for normality these days).

The rest of the film's central characters also appear to have been custom ordered straight from the Judd Apatow-school of idiot-men and harridan women. There is Stu the dentist, who is a tool for his tougher-than-nails girlfriend, who tells men who fail to listen sufficiently well, "to suck my dick." She is, in effect, more a man than the entire bachelor party combined.  There is Phil, the charming rogue, who despite his brash ways is a deeply committed family man and dedicated teacher, who just happens to like a lap-dance or two. The odd-man out in this group is Alan, a bearish misfit, and the film's requisite comedic baby-man, who is also, apparently, a pedophile as well. The fact that Alan, who has been warned to stay at least 200 feet away from schools or Chuck E. Cheeses, is handed a real baby a few scenes later, with whom he mimes masturbation, is only the beginning of the weirdness, my friends. Cue the gut-busting laughter from the audience and a glimpse of the abyss by me.

Some of the, um, plot

The men wake up after a night in Vegas to find a tiger in the bathroom, a baby in the closet, and a stolen police car valet parked out front. None of them remember anything about the night before, nor what became of boring Doug. I found myself wishing that something really interesting had indeed happened to him, "Oh, please let Doug get kidnapped by a feminist terrorist collective, who're busy making him watch Born in Flames 50 times in a row," I thought. But that would be asking too much.

As the boys retrace their steps, from the hospital to the Best Little Wedding Chapel to the police station to the middle of the Nevada desert, in search of the long-lost Doug, all the while fielding screaming phone calls from their various womenfolk, the events of the night before begin to reveal themselves in all their drunken sordidness.

Meanwhile, Doug's bride-to-be, who possesses all the personality of a cantaloupe, (actually she makes cantaloupes look downright emancipated,) pouts and frets at home, while her gazillion-dollar wedding fantasia is assembled around her. 

Comfortable old assumptions

The film, despite its outre tone, is as conventional and conservative as a 1950s sitcom, as it trots out the same tired, and trite clichés about men and women, family and marriage. Men want to run wild, like a wolf-pack. Women want to shut them in cage, and make them pay for stuff. But before the life-long consumerist affair of nuclear family begins, there is this, the ritual bacchanal of the bachelor party. In this case, it's a safari to the jungles of Vegas, where hookers, drug dealers and Wayne Newton are simply there to entertain you, like so many lions, tiger and bears. 

That everything will end happily goddamned ever after is never in question, but the tiresome road to get there, which involves a lisping prancing Asian gangster named Mr. Chow, a black drug dealer, and a wholesome hooker who ought to have her head examined, seems to last an eternity. Dante never had it this bad. The ninth circle of Hell has nothing on Las Vegas. 

This is lazy, condescending half-assed filmmaking. When in doubt, simply slap a piece of rap music overtop of the action. Still have some space to fill? How about a rip-off from another film (Rain Man will do nicely, seeing as this film also has Las Vegas in it). Need more junk to fill up the allotted 90 minutes? Cue up a cameo or two. After tiger-humping, strippers, and Mike Tyson singing Phil Collins songs, what's left?

Box office gross

In fact, the film saves a particularly nasty kick until the tail credits, in which photos of the bachelor party action (captured on digital camera) click through one after the other. There is the usual assortment of the men in strip clubs, casinos, and pretending to anally assault one another, since that's what men apparently find funny when they're drunk. But one image near the end of this collection jumps out. Alan in an elevator with his penis out, being orally serviced by an elderly woman. The image embodies the streak of casual cruelty in film that now passes as comedy. The audience seemed unable to distinguish between what is actually funny and what is merely offensive.

Audiences have been trained, and trained hard, in recent years, to equate comedy with something that pushes moral boundaries, so much so that the gross, the risque, or the simply plain offensive is now considered funny, whether there is any actual humour in it or not. I realize I am not part of the target audience for this film, but watching it in a theatre filled with mostly with young men, there appeared to be a tacit agreement: laugh and culturally bond over this dumb crappy movie. The more sticky issues, like placing a pornographic image in a mainstream Hollywood comedy, go unquestioned. I think the placement of this image (as people are getting up to leave the theatre) is critical. Furthermore because it happens so fast, you're not even sure what it is you're seeing. I thought, "Was that really a penis?" But that image also raised a lot more questions about what appeared to be, at first, "just" a dumb movie.

Buried and ignored

For me, the strange thing about re-entering the world of mainstream cinema is not the fact that so much of it is bad, but that there is so much insidious stuff that never really gets talked about. Stuff like class consciousness, or the casual racist crap, flung about in the film like so many pieces of poo. Unless you're paying attention, you don't see the buried assumptions about middle-class values, gender roles, and all the attendant hypocrisy that comes along with them.

You could say that The Hangover is pretty much like its title. It left me with the sour aftertaste of the cultural debauchery we've all been living in for the past little while. When will we move on, so that one day we can say, 'Remember when they used to make movies so full of product placement that you almost felt embarrassed for the actor forced to hold cans of soda just so for the camera?'

Or, 'Remember Las Vegas? Lord, those casinos and everything, and the constant plastic excess, the sheer deluge of waste and crap?'

Or, 'Remember when people thought giant man-babies were funny, or racial stereotypes of Asian gangsters with funny accents and tiny penises?'

Or when babies masturbating was hilarious?

Or fat hairy men being fellated in elevators by elderly women?

Or the word "shaft?"

Uh oh, I think I'm going to throw up.

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