On New Years Day, in beds in dark rooms all around the world, there were people feeling shitty. There were headaches, mouths like the Gobi Desert, bouts of reverse peristalsis, vitriolic dyspepsia, weaponized methane expulsion; there were sunglasses, there were ibuprofi, there were many, many people hungover.
For all their agitating symptoms, hangovers have an interesting universality to them. They transcend all walks of life and like losing your keys or stubbing your toe, they are easily relatable.
In the second installment of The Hangover, Director Todd Phillips revisits this romance with the good, bad and ugly sides of morning-after misery. With ‘Part II’, the original film’s paradigm remains intact, if not uncannily, with a few choice details refurbished. This time it’s Stu (Ed Helms) who’s taking the marital plunge, in Thailand instead of Vegas and it’s his brother-in-law to-be Teddy that’s gone missing. Like the original, the Wolfpack wakes up in the throes of the H-word, surrounded by cryptic clues they must decipher through the magic of selective flashbackery. Mishaps follow.
In one scene sixteen-year-old Teddy, filling the franchise role of lost-child, expresses a strange sense of satisfaction in being hungover for the first time. “I can’t remember anything,” says Teddy, “but when I woke up this morning, I was kinda happy.”
There’s something satisfyingly simple about hangovers; they’re a basic study in consequence, cause-and-effect 101. They have this way of simplifying thoughts into two-dimensional, primeval urges. Like being stoned, it’s a cloudy, half-competent, one-track thought-process (what some folks on the internet have dubbed ‘the Dumbs’).
Teddy’s gone through hell, sure, been subjected to some wily, lampshade-on-your-head, Black Eye Pea’d hi-jinx. But damn, what a story. At the core of these films is this idea that hangovers are basically battle scars, souvenirs of a life-well-lived, to be worn with a sense of pride. For the film’s target collegiate demographic, the concept is all too easy to relate.
Visit any college dorm on any given Saturday morning and you’ll find groups of young people nursing headaches with smiles on their faces, recalling fondly the night’s antics with stories of fights, hookups and missing person reports.
“It seems like a rite of passage for them to drink to mental obliteration, as if they need some excuse to be sexually promiscuous and intensely loud in doing so,” from the online publication Christwire. “The life of the Bowery Bum beckons these young and irreligious hedonists.”
Films like The Hangover are essentially pandering to us irreligious hedonists and our party-egoism. The film’s face-tattoos, monkeys, drug dealers, transvestites and celebrities are simply the exaggerated earmarks of a “wild-night” as we’ve come to know it through television and the movies. And it makes sense. The themes of indulgence, regret and amnesiatic mystery inherent to binge drinking and hangovers are practically prepackaged for cinematic storytelling, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the films have enjoyed such juicy returns at the box office.
Phillips is no stranger to party culture. His resume (Old School, Road Trip, Due Date and The Hangovers) reads like an all-time-list for a fraternity film club. And his next picture, Project X” seems equally intent on hitting the same spots, in what appears to a Superbad meets Cloverfield mashup.
But back to Teddy and his happy hangover. The biological side of a hangover is unequivocally unpleasant but the emotional side can be oddly satisfying. Sure, it may be a painful way to remember that our actions have consequences, that our bodies can be self-punitive and resentful, that our memories don’t owe us a thing and that, well, alcohol is in its very essence, poisonous.
But with the post-bender regret and confusion comes a sense of accomplishment, the sort of victorious exasperation normally reserved for professional athletes having exerted their bodies and minds against the thresholds of durability and surviving to tell the tale. And it’s the tale-telling that makes it all worthwhile.
In “Part II,” the characters are still recovering (emotionally) from the first film’s shenanigans and they are persistent in reminding you. Remember that time Stu lost a tooth? Married a prostitute? Left Doug on the roof? Stole Mike Tyson’s tiger?
The first film’s hijinx shadow every moment of the sequel, though not everyone sees eye-to-eye on how it all went down. For Alan (Zach Galifinakis), the night in Vegas was a highpoint in a lifetime of lows and he spends most of his time in Thailand aching to replicate the Vegas bond, chasing it like some sort of friendship junkie. But for the rest of the pack, it was a night they were lucky to survive, something they’d never purposefully reenact.
The discrepancy between their memories highlights one of the most interesting things about the film and hangovers in general: during a hangover, you decide how the previous night will be remembered for the rest of your life, you get to re-write a memory. This is how present-tense debacle becomes past-tense lark.
When the morning-after finds the Wolfpack mending bullet shot wounds in a Bangkok police station, Alan giggles, “Man, we love to party.” There are two ways of looking at this. On a cynical hand, Phillips is romanticising behaviours that are unhealthy, dangerous and at times criminal. You could be offended by this if you wanted to. What kind of message does it send to the children (the children!), that you can carpe-diem the night away and wake up the next morning laughing?
But let’s be realistic. Movies aren’t supposed to set standards for morality and comedies in particular have no obligation to dictate safe or healthy behaviour. The truth is that movies reflect already existing human phenomena. And in that sense, Phillips is simply doing his job. If we don’t like what it says about us, tough shit.
It’s not about whether or not party films like The Hangovers should romanticise questionable behaviour, but rather that they often do little else.
This review was written for