Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Quid Pro Quo, Douchebags

(Digging through a folder full of documents that I never did anything with for a variety of reasons, I found this. I can see why I left it alone for a couple of years. It’s a really angry, somewhat rambling screed on the hateful The Hangover. Re-reading it, I find that I’m still just as angry about it, but my powder is now suitably dry, and I felt like taking it out of mothballs and throwing it out into the world. So here it is. At the very least, it should make a nice change from people griping about Prometheus.)

"The most commonly reported characteristics of a hangover include headache, nausea, sensitivity to light and noise, lethargy, dysphoria, diarrhea and thirst. A hangover may also induce psychological symptoms including heightened feelings of depression and anxiety."

Add feelings of uncontrollable rage, and that pretty much nails my feelings after enduring Todd Phillips' hit comedy / vile piece of shit The Hangover. For this particular tirade, I'm going to have to do two things that I usually try to avoid - I'm going to be overwhelmingly negative about something in writing (as I prefer to talk up the good stuff rather than expend energy trashing the shit); and I'm going to indulge in spoilers. Lots and lots of spoilers. If you haven't seen The Hangover, you are incredibly fortunate and hopefully this will dissuade you.

There's a line of dialogue in The Hangover that encapsulates everything that's wrong with the film: "You know, everyone says Mike Tyson is such a badass, but I think he's kind of a sweetheart." Yes, this is a film that holds as part of its odious, twisted worldview the opinion that convicted rapist Mike Tyson is "kind of a sweetheart".

(For a more articulate evisceration of this horrific "hilarious" cameo appearance, read Jane Claire Bradley's Punch Drunk: On Rape Apologists and Hollywood Misogyny).

It's the way certain little details start to mount up that really, really aggravated me. Aside from the appearance of former Undisputed Heavyweight Champion and ear-chewing rapist Tyson, there's this:

All of the women in the film are either screeching emasculating bitches or ripe for the fucking. Except for "hooker with a heart of gold" Heather Graham who, in one of the film's most egregious moments, bares a breast to feed her child. Nothing wrong with that, you might say. And you'd be right. Not only is there absolutely nothing wrong with breast-feeding, but there's nothing wrong with showing it on film. So far, so good.

But context is everything, and here Phillips pops a breast on the screen for two reasons and two reasons only - for titillation and comedy. God knows, I'm no prude, and I certainly don't object to nudity in movies. But breasts are not inherently erotic, and yet here breast-feeding is overtly equated with something sexual. And the three gibbering lackwits at the centre of the film are supposed to be uncomfortable at this display of bare flesh, which is supposed, I assume, to generate a laugh. This is even more disingenuous when you get to the photos playing over the end titles and see the heinous shit they got up to over the course of that “lost” night.

To be clear: I don't have a problem with gratuitous nudity. (Some of my best friends are gratuitous nudists). I don't have a problem with bad taste comedies. It's All About Context.

Also: slamming a car door in a baby's face isn't inherently funny. It. Just. Isn’t.

Also also: Are camp oriental stereotypes really funny? Really? What the fuck is wrong with you?

If this weren't such a hugely popular film, and if I hadn't heard from so many people who kept telling me how fucking funny it is, it probably wouldn't stick in my craw so much, as such widespread adulation indicates something rotten not only in the worldview of the filmmakers, but of the audience as well. But let's put that to one side for a minute and shake our heads in confusion at the list of plaudits this festering shitcake has accrued. On January 17, 2010, The Hangover won the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy. It was also named one of the top ten movies of the year by the American Film Institute. The film won "Best Ensemble" from the Detroit Film Critics Society. The screenplay was nominated for a Writers Guild of America and BAFTA award.

Let's just consider that last one again. Screenplay award nominations. The screenplay may be sufficiently absorbent to work as passable toilet paper, but little more than that. The entire premise of the film hinges on a trio of morons piecing together the mysteries of the night before. And yet it all falls apart once you start poking away at it. For example, if the mouth-breathing arrested adolescents had stayed in their hotel room for five more minutes once they woke up, Heather Graham would have returned to explain it all to them.

Here’s another glaring unresolved plot thread - what about the chickens in the hotel room? They are never explained. Just another piece of the scaffolding of the film that collapses once you lean on it a bit with your brain. You remember brains, don't you? Those are the things that this film asks you to forget you own. (And I don’t want to hear a counter-argument of “You’re thinking about this too much. It’s just a joke!” This screenplay was nominated for awards! I don’t expect it to be a masterpiece of construction like Chinatown or Back to the Future, but it should be pretty damn close to bullet-proof.)

So. The Hangover was loved by most audiences and despised by me. Funnily enough, the criticisms I level at this mess that Todd Phillips curled out on to the screen are not entirely different from the ones sprayed at Observe and Report from many quarters - a film largely despised by audiences and loved by me. (Not just me. Kim Morgan and Anne Billson have also been vocal fans of Jody Hill’s pitch-black comedy).

The fundamental difference is one of worldview. The makers of Observe and Report know that Seth Rogen’s mallcop Ronnie Barnhardt is a monster. That changes everything. The odious fuckwits behind The Hangover think the objectionable shitheads are just regular guys having a fun weekend of sex and booze. After all, as Jeffrey Tambor keeps repeating with a knowing wink and smile throughout "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, right guys? Heh heh heh." Oh fuck off, Jeffrey Tambor, for coming out with that hackneyed line as lazy shorthand to legitimise reprehensible behaviour as mere harmless, boyish fun. What makes this all the more galling is that Tambor played one of the great all-time screen fantasist monsters as Hank "Hey Know" Kingsley on The Larry Sanders Show, in a show that was both dark and funny and made us love the central characters without ever letting us forget how fallible and monstrous they could be.

"It's like my mom always said: you can polish a turd, but it's still a piece of shit." Brandi (Anna Faris) in Observe and Report

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