Hollywood loves an against-the-odds success story, and the entertainment media made this "The Little Movie That Could" of the summer. NO ONE SAW THIS COMING, they breathlessly decreed. You would think that it was a $25,000 indie movie from the narrative the press spun, with first-time actors and a director fresh out of film school, maxing out his credit cards to get it made.
Yeah, except the guy who directed it (Todd Phillips) also directed Road Trip, Old School, and Starsky and Hutch. Ever heard of any of those art-house projects? As for the actors, one is a veteran of two of America's most popular t.v. shows (Ed Helms of The Daily Show and The Office), another (dreamy Bradley Cooper) was on Alias and was a major character in another comedy blockbuster, Wedding Crashers, with a third lead (Justin Bartha) cashing checks as Nic Cage's sidekick in the successfully awful National Treasure franchise. None of them were exactly missing meals.
Sure, this was Zach Galifianakis' first mainstream gig, but he already had a sizable following as a stand-up comic. Throw in small roles for Mike Tyson and Heather Graham (and Heather Graham's breasts, of course), and this wasn't exactly a cast of unknowns. However, because it didn't have an "A-list" star or director, it was depicted as something it wasn't: a low budget miracle full of newcomers.
You know what else it's depicted as that it's really not? An instant comedy classic.
Don't get me wrong. The Hangover is a funny movie. Very funny at times. I saw it in the theatre and chuckled and guffawed pretty continuously. I was amused by all the zany situations and the fact that it only slightly exaggerated the crazy, drunken shenanigans that can happen to a group of guys in Vegas. I had a good time, and I left the theatre pleased I'd seen it.
Over the next few days, as the buzz around the film's comedic pedigree continued to grow, I tried to remember what I liked about it. What were the really funny parts? Well, Tyson's tiger, sure. Galifiankis' deadpanned dimwit character. The end credits were amazing (has anybody figured out how they managed an "R" rating with some of those raunchy photos?).
Then I tried to go back and think of the key to any eternally re-watchable comedy: The lines. Every supremely funny movie has them. There were great sight gags in The Hangover, but what about the cleverly amusing dialogue? When I saw Forgetting Sarah Marshall a year before, I couldn't stop quoting from it, even after just one viewing. What could I remember from this Hangover (pun lamely intended)?
I came up with one line that had really made me laugh, after yet another low-comedy sight gag where the Chinese crime lord exits the trunk of the car naked and violent. After beating up the boys and leaving them to lick their wounds in the desert, Bradley Cooper's shocked character whines, "That guy was really mean!" It's not even the line that's all that great; I just loved the delivery.
That's it. That was the only line I could remember that truly made me laugh. This doesn't mean there weren't more that did at the time, but nothing stuck out.
Over the next few weeks when I talked to others who had seen it, I started noticing something. Everyone loved it and talked about how hilarious it was. I would always agree that yes, it was funny, but I didn't think it was quite as funny as it was made out to be. Most people looked at me like I was crazy. How dare I suggest that the funniest film in recent memory, the box office overachiever, could be...gasp...overrated?
Well, it is. The Hangover is overrated. That doesn't mean it's not a funny, well-done film. However, I don't see it standing the test of time as something people will still be watching and talking about years from now. It certainly didn't supplant Swingers as the ultimate Vegas-based comedy.
Low comedy films full of gross-out gags and wacky situations will bring the masses and, most importantly, attract repeated viewings from the youth market. The Hangover does low comedy better than most, and that's what made it a huge success. But if you needed any further proof that it wasn't quite as good as the hype made it seem like it was, I have damning, completely anecdotal evidence.
It was, by far, my high school students' favorite movie of the summer. They are notoriously bad judges of film, to the point that if they like something too much, I tend to shy away, and vice versa. Some of them have seen it three or four times and still can't give you more than one or two lines from it, but boy, do they love it when "that guy loses his tooth."
Comedies are hard to do well, and this is a very good one. But not great.
Nolanometer final grade: B