The Hangover Wolfpack Rides an Elevator Down

“Really?  You haven’t seen it yet?”  I heard these words uttered early last week, mere days after The Hangover came out.  How had a movie ripped through the 18-34 demographic so quickly and earnestly?  For an age group that responds best to star power or word-of-mouth when it comes to its comedies, an ensemble cast starring, frankly, nobody managed to beat the Will Ferrell vehicle, Land of the Lost, $43.3 to $19.5 million.  The answer isn’t in the marketing, which was neither ubiquitous nor varied by any considerable degree.  yet the very reason for the film’s initial success is the same that will stifle the movie’s longevity.  The Hangover attracts two separate sects of young moviegoers, and neither faction loved the movie for reasons that will hold their attention in six months time.

Mike Tyson

At it’s core, The Hangover was a family movie for friends.  The economic success of family films are generally guaranteed because, well, kids can’t go to the movies alone.  An animated movie that culls one member of a family of four, sells tickets to all four members.  Likewise, The Hangover was meant for a group of friends.  Chances are if one of your friends wanted to see the movie, all of your friends got together.  It became a miniature event of sorts.  And just like animated movies are marketed specifically to kids, The Hangover was marketed point blank at your friends that laugh at lowest common denominator humor.  If you’re questioning this, the smoking gun was Mike Tyson, and you’re precisely the friends that convinced the group to head to the theatre.  This is not a bad thing.  In fact, it’s a great thing.  You brought people together.  This will not happen with the DVD release.

Before I go any further, I must confess.  I loved the movie.  The humor is blatant and ridiculous; the type of story that is exaggerated with each telling.  The characters weren’t as empathetic as has come to be expected with the influx of Apatow-produced comedies of the past few years, and the change was surprisingly refreshing.  It all fit the testosterone-fueled cinematic adventure expected out of a movie called The Hangover.  Kudos to Todd Phillips.

As much as I enjoyed the movie, it will always look better in retrospect.  In the exact way that the movie built its success on group viewing, it will never find its success on any medium that won’t create a memory.  Just like nobody likes drinking alone, the movie simply won’t work without a group atmosphere.  Of course, the movie’s greatest reason for long-term failure is that, like a good night out, it simply won’t be quite as good when you go back to remember it.

The reasons are two-fold.  The most memorable comedies, in particular of the past decade, have relied on quotability.  Memorable quotes infuse a movie into our culture, give it life and personality even when the movie’s not even playing.  The Hangover had none.  People walked out of Old School saying, “I’ll do one”; they left Anchorman saying, “I’m kind of a big deal.”  Audiences left The Hangover saying, “Wasn’t that one part funny?”  Yes, yes it past-tense-was funny.

<img class=”alignleft” src=”/images/www/hangover-mcconaughey.jpg” width=”300” height=”201”alt=”McConaughey” title=”No, Matthew, I don’t know who I want to punch more” %}

Speaking of Old School and Anchorman, the movies of the Frat Pack sound like a passage from the Bible.  Old School begat Anchorman and Wedding Crashers.  Anchorman begat Talladega Nights and The Forty-Year Old Virgin.  Virgin begat Knocked Up, ad nauseum.  There is no heirarchy, no mentorship in the cast of The Hangover.  Sure, Todd Phillips directed both The Hangover and Old School.  Yes, Zach Galifianakis steals the spotlight, and he’s nothing more than a poor man’s Will Ferrell.  Ed Helms simply doesn’t have the star power his predecessor, Steve Carrell, has, and if Bradley Cooper is destined for any career in films, it’s more Matthew McConaughey than Vince Vaughn.  The Hangover is Cooper’s own Dazed and Confused, the best movie he’ll put out, but Cooper can’t even pull it off with the sort of iconic line that McConaughey pulled off.

In a few years, what seemed like a highly memorable movie will fade from our memory like all those crazy nights that seemed so important the next day.  “Remember that one time?”  “Oh yeah!”  In the end, there’s nothing wrong with that.  A string of nights, or movies like this, and a cognizant memory is formed, friendships created and strengthened.  In the end, like any hangover, it will only fade with time.