Guys and gals should enjoy the extreme comedies of Bridesmaids and a Hangover sequel
It`s easy to label this summer’s biggest box-office comedies as equal-opportunity products of the 1980s slob comedy genre, with the male-dominated The Hangover Part II and the female-centric Bridesmaids both trucking in supreme sequences devoted to lowbrow scatological antics. Yet those old standbys, namely plot and characterization, are what really drive these features to the winners circle. Indeed, there is something to be said about filmmakers who care about their characters, even if some do wind up, as one does in Bridesmaids, seeking some bowel relief in a bathroom sink.
Todd Phillips directed 2009’s The Hangover, a box-office overachiever at the time that often played as more interesting than truly funny, involving a trio of drunken dunces known as the “Wolf Pack” and the aftermath of an epic bachelor party in Las Vegas as they try to find the lost groom. Credit that film’s success to its intricate structure, which seemed to be paying tribute to 1940s-era noir dramas, particularly the flicks that had some poor sap suffering from amnesia and implicated in a crime, as he wandered the black-and-white urban canyons of a Hollywood set to find the truth.
Phillips knew that the template of the first movie was the real star, so for his second menbehaving-badly installment, inevitably titled The Hangover Part II (Warner Bros.; 101 minutes; R; widescreen; 2011), the sequel becomes a case of, to coin an old Herman’s Hermits lyric, “second verse, same as the first.” Bespectacled dentist Stu (Ed Helms from The Office) is the next to head for the altar, with his engagement to pretty Lauren (Jamie Chung), and the swanky nuptials set at her wealthy parents’ Thailand residence. With some gentle prodding by buddy Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu grudgingly agrees to allow Alan (Zach Galifianakis), the nitwit loose cannon who inadvertently stoked the mayhem in the first movie, to also attend the ceremony, and thus ensure moviegoers that more idiocy is on the dance card.
Keeping things fresh even as the plotline remains firm, Phillips and co-writers Craig Mazin and Scot Armstrong swap out some elements here and there, such as relegating the original groom, played by Justin Bartha, to the sidelines, and adding Lauren’s teen brother Teddy (Mason Lee), a musical prodigy, to the fourth-wheel slot. Instead of having the boys tote around another mysterious baby, as they did in the original, the sequel has added a cigarette-smoking monkey, as well as a monk who knows plenty but adheres to his vow of silence, plus the return of party-hearty gangster Mr. Chow (more scene-stealing by Ken Jeong), all plausible components thanks to the sequel’s exotic backdrop.
Galifianakis again plays Alan as a schlumpy cousin to Homer Simpson, given to infantile goofiness and random outbursts (he pronounces Thailand as “Thigh-land”), while Helms’ nerdish dentist becomes the humiliating butt of many jokes (literally, as one plot revelation unfolds) and Cooper reprises his clueless leading man, this time with more perspiration because of the Bangkok climate. There doesn’t seem to be an ounce of genuine friendship between these guys and yet their on-screen chemistry works because the audience shares with them their wacky plight on how they dimly attempt to recall their actions.
Phillips is no stranger to the odd-guysbonding movie comedies, with plenty of examples on his resume stretching from Old School to Due Date. He’s pretty good at keeping his Hangover ensemble on track when the plot demands closer attention, and also letting them cut loose for individual bits of business. Helms picks up a guitar at one point, for instance, to strum a ditty about his character’s mishaps, with veteran viewers of The Office getting a bonus since they’re already aware of Helms’ musicianship. There’s also an inspired sequence in which Alan has a flashback to the
continued from previous page
previous night’s events, only he’s imagining his beloved Wolf Pack buds as 12-year-old miscreants on a spectacular bender, with Phillips putting kid actors in these roles.
Some viewers are deriding the second Hangover as more of the same, which is missing the point: The only reason sequels are ever greenlighted is to make more money. So if Phillips has the satiric gift to give audiences exactly what they want, right down to aping the original’s specifically timed comic beats and an end-credits crawl that reveals more madness via incriminating snapshots, more power to him.
Maybe there is a political subtext at work, in which people who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it, like the foreign policy quagmires from LBJ-Vietnam to Bush-Iraq. OK, you might need a RotoRooter to uncover that possible theme, yet Phillips is signaling that his characters are unable to stop themselves from doing dopey drunken things, so maybe the third Hangover—and there will surely be a third one, since it has amassed a worldwide gross of $488 million, with more millions to come—might climax with his three stooges at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. For now, however, The Hangover Part II offers familiar yet anarchic comfort food, a smart summertime sequel about very stupid guys.
Oddly, some critics have taken the shorthand approach to label Kristen Wiig’s triumphant comedy Bridesmaids (Universal; 124 minutes; R; widescreen; 2011) as a Hangover for the female demographic, which is pretty much a putdown for both movies. Pigeonholing Brides maids as a simplistic chick flick (does that mean The Hangover is a prick flick?) means that you simply haven’t seen the movie.
Much like the early days of Andy Kaufman, Wiig’s gift on the NBC sketch show Saturday Night Live comes from her ability to create nutty personas and then use her improv skills to merrily deconstruct those characters, pushing them to the edge and then letting them fall overboard. For her Bridesmaids character Annie, Wiig ensures plenty of memorable meltdowns, but they essentially come from a real person. Her Annie has witnessed the closing of her startup bakery (a byproduct of the Bush recession), and now she’s stuck in a dead-end store-clerk job and forced to room with some Brit slackers who have the gall to read the secrets of her diary. Perhaps worst of all, she’s the f-buddy of a greasy stud (Mad Men’s Jon Hamm in an uncredited bit), the type of jerk who tells Annie after a wham-bam at his gated residence, “This is awkward. I really want you to leave but I don’t know how to say it without sounding like a dick.”
But nope, it gets worse. Her best gal pal Lillian (Maya Rudolph, also from SNL) has asked Annie to be maid of honor at her upcoming wedding, a task that gets complicated when Annie collides with Lillian’s recent new friend Helen (Rose Byrne), a witchy rich lass who is also angling for the maid of honor slot. Fleshing out the wedding party are peroxide blonde bombshell Rita (Wendi McLendon-Covey), mousy Becca (Ellie Kemper) and hefty but heartfelt Megan (Melissa McCarthy, from the CBS sitcom Mike and Molly, and this movie’s hands-down scene-stealer).
Bridemaids comes from the Judd Apatow comedy factory, which cranks out mostly male-oriented laughers along the raucous lines of Superbad and Step Brothers, and make no mistake that Wiig and her co-writer Annie Mumolo have co-opted some of that genre’s raunchy flavoring. The explosive aftermath that comes with dining Brazilian at a downmarket restaurant has created the summer movie season’s most buzz-worthy element.
Yet director Paul Feig (from TV’s Freaks and Geeks) and Wiig always keep matters relating to the human condition, even when the detours into inspired lunacy. Wiig’s Annie is a complicated mess, all right, and yet there is a Chaplineseque appeal regarding her many screw-ups; even when she finds the right guy, an Irish-brogued copper played by Chris O’Dowd (with this guy and the aforementioned Brits, funny accents seem to be funny to the Bridesmaids auteurs), Annie still somehow blows the chance for true romance. And Annie’s desperate attempts to upstage Helen’s sly machinations and still retain Lillian’s friendship spiral into a memorable sequence involving Annie’s unfortunate mix of pharmaceuticals and alcohol, thus creating a nightmarish comic cocktail aboard an airliner.
Wiig is quite awesome to behold in Bridesmaids, whether she goes for the comic gusto in outrageous set pieces (and there are too many to cite here, although the series of visual automotive gags in which Annie tries to get arrested by the disinterested cop is pretty hilarious) or just gets quietly expressive when the little things derail her good intentions. What hasn’t been mentioned in most reviews is the participation of the late actress Jill Clayburgh, in her final film role as Annie’s lovingly foulmouthed mom. Clayburgh became one of moviedom’s most iconic feminist treasures as the focus of director Paul Mazursky’s 1978 An Unmarried Woman, and her Bridesmaids casting seems pretty deliberate, functioning now as a posthumous homage to Clayburgh’s career to go along with Wiig’s wonderfully comical contribution to the sociological cinema of sisterhood.