The Hangover: Funny, Racist, Sexist?

Illustration for article titled The Hangover: Funny, Racist, Sexist?

As previously mentioned, last week I saw new dick flick The Hangover. Was it (mostly) hilarious? Yes. Was it also problematic and offensive? Yes, yes.


Although several plot points will be glossed over or withheld, and most of what I'm writing about is in the trailer, this could get a little spoilery, so be warned.

The premise: Four guys travel to Las Vegas for a Bachelor weekend; three wake up in a hotel with no memory of what happened, but there's a tiger — and a baby — in the room.

The guys are all jerks, pretty much: Bradley Cooper's character, Phil, is the biggest, and, in an early scene, he calls Ed Helms' character — who is a dentist — "Dr. Faggot." Lots of laughs in the theater, but not from me. Zach Galifianakis — playing Alan, a guy who is "not right" in the head, is amazing, and funny, and really the breakout star of the film. But many of the supporting roles are tired clichés. The one black guy — besides Mike Tyson — is a drug dealer. There's an Asian gangster-type, who minces and lisps and generally embarrasses both Asians and gays. And then there are the women.

Ed Helms' character, Stu, is living with a woman played by bespectacled Rachel Harris. She is brunette, and looks Liz Lemony — brainy, successful — so naturally, she is a shrill, cold, shrew who nags and berates him into submission. Once he's in Vegas, Stu's character ends up marrying the blonde, wide-eyed Jade — played by Heather Graham — a hooker with a heart of gold.

Of course, you don't go to this kind of film looking for depth and complexity. It's a roller-coaster ride of smart and darkly funny entertainment. But with such great casting, some excellent jokes and thrilling action, why rest on lame brunette vs. blonde, frigid bitch vs. whore stereotypes?


The other question is this: If it's cool to laugh at these bad boys, does that make it cool to also laugh at calling wimpy dudes "faggots"?

That's my take; here's what the critics are saying:


The Hangover, Hollywood's most destructive stag-party trip to Las Vegas since 1998's Very Bad Things, works backward from a morning-after shambles that's amusingly surreal. But this bad-boy comedy runs out of laughs long before it's reconstructed the things its four protagonists shouldn't have done during the night they can't remember.



Unless your definition of pure perversity includes the portrayal of a convicted pedophile ("I'm not supposed to be within 200 feet of a school," says Alan, "or a Chuck-E Cheese") who's given weekend custody of a baby; or if your idea of the decade's funniest movie would contain a scene where our heroes get repeatedly tasered before a class of cheering children. You'll also need an indulgence for racial (Asian) and sexual (gay) stereotyping, and the sight of inappropriate gentlemen with their pants off. […] Virtually every joke either is visible long before it arrives or extends way past its expiration date.[…] This is a bromance so primitive it's practically Bro-Magnon.



Crude, audacious and anarchic… And yet "The Hangover" is a cut above the typical contemporary guy-friendship comedy […] It builds in us an increasingly squirrelly sense of anxiety, a mounting certainty that none of this is going to turn out OK.



The setups are funnier than the follow-through… The movie loses momentum rather than picking it up. This kind of "one crazy night" tale relies on drum-tight structure to work. Without it, The Hangover sputters to a sentimental halt…

Still, it's worth staying for the closing credits, in which an outrageous photo montage finally reveals what transpired during the boys' collective blackout.


NY Times:

The Hangover peaks early and runs out of steam long before the end.
Still, there are some moments of dizzying, demented lunacy, most of them immune to being spoiled by mere verbal description.
But true to its title, "The Hangover" goes down smoothly enough and then kicks you in the head later on, when you start to examine the sources of your laughter. There's the easy, lazy trafficking in broad ethnic caricature - Mike Epps as a black drug dealer, Ken Jeong as a prancing, lisping Asian gangster known as Mr. Chow - which is decked out in flimsy air quotes to make it seem as if the movie is making fun of racism.


The Hangover opens today

Click to view
The Hangover [Trailer Addict]
Earlier: What's So Funny About A Man With A Baby?



But is the movie condoning those views, the racist, sexist, or homophobic ones...or are they using those things as a means of showing either A. what an asshole a character is for having them B. advocating racism, sexism, or homophobia via it's portrayal or C. poking fun at the stereotypes by using them.

That all really, really, really, really matters. I've often seen characters given awful viewpoints to A. point out how awful the character is and B. how awful people are who think like that. Even in a comedy. The fact that some people won't get that doesn't mean it's not a valuable, useful, or even a funny tool in social critique. Even if it's a "dumb" comedy.

I mean, we could make the argument that no film should ever have those concepts...but then we lose out on valuable insight and cultural criticism. I don't know that this movie is trying to do that, but I'm kind of tired of every movie that has an "offensive" remark being treated as though the point is to perpetuate those ideas. Some might be, there's no denying that. But I think many aren't and it gets lost in the outrage.

Of course, this is subjective. I may think something is subverting an issue by the way it portrays it...others might think it's condoning it.

I've just seen this criticism about a lot of movies that, if analyzed, it doesn't hold up. A lot of the time characters are given awful viewpoints to show how awful they are. Not say that viewpoint is good. The fact that some people would take it that way just means they didn't get it. And they have a bigger problem than the movies.

This is not to say we shouldn't ask, we really should. I'm all for it. But I think we need to be more thorough in our analysis, so it's not just so and so said x, that means they think x is okay. Context is REALLY important to make that call.