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Best remedy for The Hangover: Zach Galifianakis

June 9, 2009, 12:00 am
By SFR Staff
The movie on everyone's mind last weekend, at least as far as I could tell via my friends' Facebook status updates and Twitter feeds, was The Hangover.

The premise is simple: The weekend before Doug's wedding, Phil (married but still a man-whore), Stu (the whipped preppie who had to tell his girlfriend that the dudes would be weekending at a bed and breakfast in Napa), Alan (the weird brother-in-law that no one really wants around) and Doug go to Las Vegas for one last weekend of rowdy cameraderie. But - oh no! - the guys wake up the next morning to a trashed hotel room and the worst hangover of their lives, and Doug seems to have vanished into thin air a mere 48 hours before he's to be wed. The guys must retrace their steps via receipts found in pockets and testimonials from people around them in order to find Doug.

Ho-ho-ho, hilarity undoubtedly ensues.

Directed by Todd Phillips (he who brought us Road Trip, Old School and other such "I hate that I love this so much" films), the movie either looked like one of the funniest things ever to grace the silver screen, or it looked like yet another "dudes go to Vegas and act like dudes" flick that was sure to be formulaic, overdone, overproduced and too full of attractive people to ever be remotely close to realistic.

The latter could easily have been true were it not for our hero, comedian Zach Galifianakis, whose brilliantly awkward portrayal of man-purse-toting Alan soars above his co-stars' performances.

Thinking about Galifianakis has made me want to extol all his virtues, so while I do plan on discussing The Hangover, I think a little background on on Galifianakis and his myriad other projects is in order.



As the audience is introduced to the characters and the setting of The Hangover, an undeniable music video feel comes across. Artsy (and expensive-looking) aerial shots of Vegas glitter across the screen and a follow shot frames the vintage Benz Doug borrowed from his father-in-law as it cruises down the freeway. These moments are over all too soon, however, and are quickly replaced by more standard shots that make the occasional forays into unique angles seem out of place and a little awkward. Similarly, the use of music is a little weird, especially in the beginning of the movie. It's as if the director wanted to make sure that a few token "Wahoo, let's go wild!"-type songs got featured in the introductory scenes of the guys in Vegas - hence a brief (seriously brief, we're talking 10 seconds tops) clip of "Who Let the Dogs Out" and an equally as fleeting feature of Kanye West's "Can't Tell Me Nothin'."

Fans of Galifianakis, however, will immediately recognize "Can't Tell Me Nothin'" as the song whose music video Kanye West enlisted Galifianakis to create with total artistic freedom in 2007. Inspired perhaps by Galifianakis' collaboration with Fiona Apple for the music video for "Not About Love" (legend has it that Galifianakis and Apple, who are long-time friends, made the video for fun and never intended to release it, but it was later leaked - and no, it's not that kind of leaked video), or maybe by Galifianakis' music video for Anita Baker's "You Bring Me Joy," West handed Galifianakis a chunk of money and a film crew and said, "Do whatever you want." Okay, maybe it didn't go exactly like that, but it seems accurate enough.

The result is a music video with high production value shot on Galifianakis' farm in North Carolina. The video is gorgeous, but is hardly what one would expect from a rap superstar; there are tractors galore, Bonnie Prince Billy dancing around in front of a farmhouse, Galifianakis lip-synching while walking through a field of corn and a shot of a herd of cows during a line about "a room full'a hos," to name only a few things.

Both the West music video and parts of The Hangover speak to a widening acceptance of Galifianakis' comedic style. For those who don't quite know what I mean by that, watch a few episodes of "Between Two Ferns," Galifianakis' viral online-only talk show where he plays perhaps the most awkward host in the history of the world. (My personal favorite is the episode featuring Michael Cera, but more related to this particular blog post would be the episode with The Hangover co-star Bradley Cooper.) Another fine showing of Galifianakis' uncanny ability to make the viewer ragingly uncomfortable can be found in this Absolut Vodka ad in which he dons a beehive hairdo and screams at his friends amidst what looks like a secondhand soap opera set complete with scented candles; similarly to the West video, Absolut gave Galifianakis a chunk of money and total artistic freedom to make an ad for their fine product. And this is what happened. I don't think Absolut ever officially ran this ad, but it (and the other videos in the 3-part series) has become a cult sensation online. Though I don't know how much vodka it has sold, necessarily.

So, okay. That being said, The Hangover marks what I think is a growing public acceptance of a comedic style that isn't just some dude onstage doing impressions and telling jokes. Whereas Galifianakis' style was previously relegated mostly to online shorts and shows like Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job, he brings it full-force to the big screen in The Hangover and does so with great success. When it comes to finding his performance funny, it doesn't really matter if one is a fan of Galifianakis or not, but his fans will definitely appreciate it a little more.

The dudes are getting ready to go out for their night on the town in Vegas, dressed to the nines and ready to party. Suddenly Alan (Galifianakis) shows up sporting a tucked-in tee shirt with a creepy nature scene on it, tight white jeans and a man-purse full of Skittles. I'm not the most party-crazy person on the planet, but even I put my head in my hands in the movie theater, embarrassed for the guys who would have to be seen with Alan. Galifianakis' awkwardness comes across perfectly, and not only in the crude ways that one would expect. In the very first scene, Alan insists on hugging brother-in-law Doug while Alan wears nothing but a tuxedo shirt and a jock strap. While this early moment sets a pretty low precedent for the comedy style, it quickly exceeds expectations. In the car on the way to Vegas, Alan is reading a book about card counting. When one of the other guys suggests that maybe that isn't the best idea, he replies, "It's not illegal. It's just frowned upon. Like masturbating on an airplane."

After the dudes do shots on the roof of their hotel (I find it weird that every time I refer to them I want to say "the dudes") and Alan slices into his palm in an attempt to become blood brothers with Doug (Doug declines), the scene ends abruptly and opens again on the next morning. Once the guys wake up, Stu (Ed Helms) finds he is missing a tooth, and Alan discovers a tiger in the bathroom. Soon, Alan, Stu and Phil realize that Doug has gone missing. After they find a baby in the cupboard (a baby whom they decide to call Carlos until they find its true moniker; by the way, that baby actor is one of the best baby actors on the planet), they head downstairs to try their best to piece the night together.

Between police cruisers, naked people in trunks, wedding chapels and visits to police stations and hospitals, slowly the evening gets put back together bit by bit. I won't give it all away (like I apparently did in earlier versions of this post). Long story short, everything gets figured out, but not before idiot-savant Alan saves the day. To find out how, I guess you'll have to see the movie.

It would have been easy for this movie to slip into cheap gags and immaturity, but quite honestly, I believe it's Galifianakis' performance that keeps the film above par. Granted, Ed Helms' Stu is pretty hilarious, but as far as anyone else's performance - Bradley Cooper (who, to be fair, got stuck admirably playing the straight man), Heather Graham, Justin Bartha - is concerned, they're not bad, per se, but definitely forgettable.

Galifianakis steals the movie at any possible opportunity; when Stu and Phil are talking with Mike Tyson (long story on how that transpired), their conversation in the foreground is totally superceded by about 3 seconds in which Alan appears in a back doorway, suddenly stops, then walks out of frame again. Sounds like nothing, but when put in the hands of someone like Galifianakis, that is the only part of the entire scene that the audience truly remembers. It's either a testament to Galifianakis, a statement about the writing of the conversation in the foreground, or a little bit of both.

 

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