When you discuss 2009 as a year for comedic movies, it cannot be described as anything but a massive letdown. Just one year earlier, we had Tropic Thunder, Pineapple Express, Step Brothers, and Forgetting Sarah Marshall. In 2009, the studio comedy was dead. There’s a real chance that The Brothers Bloom (which we will get to) was the best comedy of the year heading into June. Disappointments ruled the landscape, while indie comedies had trouble breaking through. Then, a seismic shift occurred in the pop culture landscape. The Hangover arrived, delivering Zach Galifianakis, Bradley Cooper, and Ed Helms to superstardom.
For someone who had graduated high school just weeks earlier, The Hangover was appointment viewing. Not only was I there on opening night, but I was there at least two more times during its theatrical run. The Hangover would go on to win the Golden Globe for Best Comedy that year, despite not picking up a single acting nomination for its cast. Galifianakis went from being an alt-comedy idol to a mainstream pop culture figure. While the sequels could never live up to the surprise of the first film, The Hangover still feels like a breath of fresh air.
The Moment I Fell in Love With The Hangover
One of the instantly quotable and weirdly effective sequences in The Hangover occurs on the top of the Caesar Hotel. After toasting Doug (Justin Bartha) and getting ready for the night, Alan (Galifianakis) interrupts Phil (Cooper). He pulls out a pre-written speech from his pocket, crumbled and beaten from days of trying to get the wording right, and launches into The Wolfpack speech.
The scene taps into a part of what makes Galifianakis such an electric performer. He stumbles through the speech with a weirdly specific cadence. He then cuts his hand and tries to get the other guys to join his blood brother pact. The disgust on everyone’s face is palpable. It immediately cued us into the extremes that would come to define Galifianakis’ performance throughout the film. Yet there is a sneaking level of honesty and vulnerability he shows to those people he believes care for him. It is a little heartbreaking that he wears his heart on his sleeve, but it also instantly endears us to him. No matter how many Holocaust jokes, inappropriate drug stories, or terrible things he does for the rest of the film, we’re in his corner.
As Phil takes back over the conversation and lays out why everyone has to have “selective memory,” there’s a cut to Alan as he nods with understanding. Right as the movie allows Cooper to play into his skeevy, frat guy side that put him on our radar, Galifianakis’ character misunderstands his role in the night. It’s the inciting incident for the whole movie and got us on board with The Wolfpack for two more movies.
Most Rewatchable Scene
Right, when they think they’re at the end of the rope, with no way to save Doug (who was of course taken by the evil Ken Jeong), they have to make a lot of money quickly. What better way to make up that cash in Vegas than to gamble? That’s when Galifianakis jumps in and counts cards. No longer the fool, Alan is the only way to save the day, and the montage is surprisingly fun. It also brings in Stu’s accidental wife (Heather Graham) into the plot for at least another scene.
Not only is the scene very funny, but it inspired the meme of numbers flying around Galifianakis’ face. It’s funny, gets great laughs, and nods to “Iko Iko” from Rain Man. While Galifianakis is no Hoffman, the scene undeniably works. The musical shift to Wolfmother is also very much a late 2000s musical cue. Today, the scene couldn’t happen in a movie like this one. Even when 21 released, it felt like Vegas had already gotten ahead of card counters. A decade later? No chance. It’s perfectly of the time, yet timeless as we get to see the guys actually enjoy themselves for a moment. This is what makes Vegas great for so many people.
Best Scene in The Movie
When the guys back to the hotel, an unexpected guest is waiting for them. Mike Tyson broke back into the popular culture for a minute in 2009, and The Hangover was a big reason for that resurgence. Not only does he punch Galifianakis in the face, knocking him out in the process, but he gets some choice one-liners reminding of us the interesting crowds he’s run with.
Cooper sells the hell out of the meeting, either making Phil seem like the biggest fan of the boxer or letting his own fanboy feelings slip out a bit. Helms’ desperation also hits a breaking point, and his resignation “If you’re going to kill us, I don’t even care anymore” helps sell him as the straight man of the group. We also get the “What Do Tigers Dream Of (Stu’s Song)” montage, which instantly made the rounds among college-age boys.
We get the Wolfpack at their absolute breaking point, marred by the events of the film up to this point. The six or seven-minute sequence also gave us some of the best subtle character work from the group.
Why You Should Watch It Again
While The Hangover became the last gasp of “bro comedy” in Hollywood, it remains an integral part of mythmaking for the actors involved. While Bartha gets the short end of the stick in the film, Galifianakis, Cooper, and Helms became must-watch performers. Almost instantaneously, Galifianakis was one of the most sought after comedians working. While several of the films asked him to try to recapture the magic of The Hangover (Due Date) they rarely worked on the same level. Yet Galifianakis remains one of the most talented performers alive, with Baskets, The Lego Batman Movie, Birdman, Missing Link all playing on his persona. Helms went on to become a bigger character on The Office, becoming the Regional Manager after Steve Carrell left. He’s also been excellent in Cedar Rapids (a wildly underseen comedy) and has bounced around as a cultural figure.
However, few would have suspected that Cooper would become the superstar that he has in recent years. Obviously, A Star Is Born showed his drive and determination to become a director, top-tier actor, and even a writer. He’s received seven Oscar nominations in the last ten years, including acting nominations for Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle, and American Sniper in three consecutive years. He’s even the voice of Rocket Racoon in the MCU. The next time Cooper finds himself a nomination, expect the makeup win for an actor that Todd Phillips took a chance on.
Speaking of which, Phillips (the director of The Hangover) is about to unleash Joaquin Phoenix as The Joker later this year. Sometimes movies lead their talent onto weird and winding roads. The Hangover certainly did just that.
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