The Hangover

The Hangover


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

When you're told that the film you're about to see is a hit American comedy about a stag night gone wrong, the last thing you're likely to expect is that it will be smart. But again and again, independent hits confirm that audiences are tired of being patronised by Hollywood, and now at last a synthesis has been achieved - a Warner Brothers film with famous stars and crowd-pleasing slapstick that also has brains.

This is the story of Phil, Stu and Alan, who take their mate Doug out for his last night of drinking as a free man, heading for the bright lights of Vegas. Phil says he's glad to get away from the wife and child who cramp his style; Stu is used to lying to the girlfriend who bullies him, but he still plans to propose to her; and Alan, well, he's the bride's brother, but he wants to be the best friend he can, even if social skills are not his strong point. Unfortunately, after a hectic night of partying, our heroes wake up feeling like shit with no memory of what happened. There's a tiger in the bathroom, a baby in the cupboard, a police car waiting for them in the parking lot - and they can't find the groom.

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So far, so stupid. But this film makes a number of intriguing choices. Up until the final credits we see next to nothing of the stag night itself. The glamour of Vegas is almost completely bypassed; instead we see it looking dusty and run-down, like a neglected film set, in broad daylight. Although a lot of films include gratuitous strip club scenes as a means of securing finance, the only stripper we meet here is in her daywear and is full of homely charm.

The characters are unexpectedly challenging. Stu constantly tries to bring things back down to Earth, but he's not ridiculed for being boring, instead effecting a shy charm. Phil, at first glance the confident and callous one, turns out to have a strong moral (but not moralising) streak. As for Allan, he's overweight, he wears awful clothes, he leers at eight-year-olds out of car windows and he continually manages to say deeply inappropriate things, but in the end the viewer is not encouraged either to accept his behaviour or to mock him, rather to appreciate the complicated person he is. This depth of character makes the friendship between the guys feel real and makes the associated observational comedy both funny and moving.

The Hangover understands that one of the key ingredients of masculine bonding is shared failure, just as one of the joys of a really good drinking session is looking back afterwards and sharing grimaces over the stupid things you did. There are plenty of truly stupid moments here, and there's a good deal of action, with naked kung fu, a brush with Mike Tyson and a warning about the perils of pissing off schoolboys. Yet the sharp script, carefully judged performances and oddly realist tone make it all seem like something that really could happen, which gives it far more punch than these things usually have. Besides, it's hard not to like a mainstream American comedy that references French surrealist cinema. This is one Hangover you can look forward to.

Reviewed on: 09 Jun 2009
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After a drunken stag night in Vegas, nobody can remember what happened - and the groom is missing.
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Read more The Hangover reviews:

Stephen Carty *1/2

Director: Todd Phillips

Writer: Jon Lucas, Scott Moore

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Justin Bartha, Heather Graham, Sasha Barrese, Jeffrey Tambor, Ken Jeong, Mike Tyson

Year: 2009

Runtime: 100 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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