Friday, June 5, 2009

The White Middle Class Gets a Free Pass to Fuck Over Minorities

Posted By and on Fri, Jun 5, 2009 at 12:10 PM

0187/1244218319-hangoverpage.jpgHey, it’s Blockbluster, our seasonal feature in which Benjamin Sutton and Henry Stewart crawl out of their art-house bunker, to find out what regular people all over the country are eating popcorn during. This week they spill the beans about what Todd Phillips did in Vegas.

HENRY:
Hey Ben, did you know that all chicks are bitches? I didn’t know either until I saw The Hangover, the latest piece of bromance, this one from Todd Phillips (Old School). Seriously, what hath Apatow wrought? I thought the recent I Love You Man marked a nadir for this kind of shit, but The Hangover outdoes it by doubling the number of dicks; we’ve got four bros here, on a bachelor party bender in Vegas: Doug (Justin Bartha), who’s to be married in two days time, plus his brother-in-law to-be Alan (Zach Galifianakis) and his two best friends, Stu (Ed Helms) and Phil (Bradley Cooper, whose credits read like a worst of the decade: The Rocker, He’s Just Not That Into You, Yes Man, etc.) The four of them—painfully dull Doug is thankfully dispatched early, and the film becomes a mystery as the remaining trio tries to find him—are a bunch of Jagermeister-shooting assholes, grown men who haven’t developed past the college-freshman stage of their perpetual frat-boy lives.

Accordingly, every woman we meet, as I said, is a bitch, starting with Stu’s girlfriend, Melissa (Rachel Harris), a castrating supershrew. A humorless little girl in a car gives Alan the finger; a female assistant to a chapel proprietor is lazy and obnoxious. By my count, two nice women show up in the movie: one is the stripper (Heather Graham) that Stu marries during his bender, and whom he berates thereafter, calling her a “hooker” and a “whore”. The other is a busty woman on the street in a leopard dress; when Phil tells her she’s got an enormous rack, she flashes him a wide smile.

Convicted rapist Mike Tyson makes a cameo and the cast fawns over him—fitting, as the movie boasts an old-school, Tysonesque conception of masculinity: get fucked up and fuck shit up. And bitches? Fuck ‘em.

BEN:
You’re right, The Hangover’s sexual (not to mention race and class just yet) politics are completely fucked. I’m not sure Mike Tyson’s life offers the best analogy for this, though, what with the recent death of his daughter and his apparently, religiously reformed ways. He’s had to change and become somewhat adult (he still owns a tiger, apparently), something that none of the “grown-up” men in The Hangover seem capable of doing. In many ways, in fact, this film’s single-minded cultish attitude towards boyhood was like a frat house version of Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, with a bunch of guys goofing around and only putting up with women who’ll submit to their misogynist games (poor Heather Graham!).

Unlike that stubbornly unfunny effects showcase, though, The Hangover is actually funny (fucking hilarious, even), and in a few lucid moments seems to become aware of how awful it is — though those moments are likely lost on the film’s target audience. As Stu lies to Melissa about being at a Napa Valley winery — which isn’t necessarily that much more adult than Vegas, as Sideways’ Cabernet-cloaked misogynist fantasy can attest — Phil wonders out loud: “Are we 12 years old?” Moments later the group sneaks up to the hotel roof to get drunk, unwittingly answering that question in the affirmative — or, as one yells after a shot of Jager: “Oh, it’s like college!” Whether middle school or college, their infantile antics — and the entire scavenger hunt investigation narrative — are spelled out in an annoyed doctor’s comment: “Figure it out yourselves, you’re big boys.” The Hangover is about piecing together the nights before, not the lives ahead. Still, in the context of Brooklynite Todd Phillips’ oeuvre — which includes Road Trip, Old School, School for Scoundrels and Starsky & Hutch — being a big boy has never looked so painfully difficult.

HENRY:
C’mon Ben: when the cast is fawning over Iron Mike, I don’t think it’s because of his newfound domesticity and religious conversion. More likely, it’s because he’s a big motherfucker who don’t need to take no shit from nobody. Anyway, the problem with The Hangover is that it doesn’t advocate growing up, as most bros-before-hos comedies eventually do—it celebrates getting away with perpetual juvenility. One of the characters even seems to transform into a baby: after their wild night Doug disappears, but an infant shows up in their suite.

To say that it’s self-aware is to give the movie way too much credit; though, at the very beginning, Phillips impressed me: I liked that the movie opens in media res and I liked that its initial glimpses of Vegas were in broad daylight, in subversive contrast to the usual nighttime neon. But Phillips and his screenwriters Jon Lucas and Scott Moore turn out to be fucking morons; the whole first half of the movie followed an idiotic formula: dumb dialogue, hip-hop montage, repeat. Oh, and don’t forget to fill an entire frame with the Mercedes logo.

I’m jealous, if not downright disappointed, that you were able to sit there and laugh at all that, because I was stone-faced through most of it. The jokes were mostly weak, made worse because I was so repulsed by the movie’s tone. In addition to its misogyny, it had an awful lot of gay bashing, too. One of the earliest scenes is Alan shouting at a tailor for getting too close to his balls while doing his inseam. A few scenes later, Stu’s friends call him “Dr. Faggot”. Alan is later mocked for his satchel—his “man purse”. I don’t want to come off as some PC policeman here, but is deriding women and making accusations of homosexuality the only ways to make ticket-buying young men laugh? Or are the filmmakers, like their characters, just a bunch of assholes, perpetuating the worst of society? Like: getting tasered isn’t funny. Tasers kill lots of people every year.

Do you want to talk about the film’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s-worthy portrayal of Asians, or should I?

BEN:
Henry, it’s just an indulgent boys’ night out movie for 16 to 35 year-old boys to see on their night out, for chrissakes. Okay? So what if it features probably the most offensive portrayal of an Asian American in a film ever? At least that character wields some literal and narrative muscle. We first meet Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) when he leaps naked from the car trunk he’s been locked in overnight and beats our heroes with a crowbar. Later he reappears with his suited cronies (is he a mobster, or just a diluted David Lynch villain in yellow-face?) and turns out to be something like a parody of Prince at his most confrontationally bisexual mixed with all the stereotypes peddled in racist jokes about Asians — at one point he grabs his crotch and taunts Phil, Stu and Alan: “Kiss my little Chinese balls!” I didn’t laugh at that joke, Mr. PC Policeman officer sir — although I did laugh at a cleverer version of it in a classic episode of South Park. Are you gonna taser me now?

We should probably also mention that the film’s only non-boxing African American character — another Doug (Mike Epps) in exchange for whom the boys accidentally give Chow an improbably quickly raised $80,000 — is a drug dealer. Worse yet, he’s made fun of not for his profession, but because he doesn’t know what Ruphinol is. In other words: he never went to college because making money was a more immediate necessity. This gets at one of my biggest problems among so many with this movie, especially where Phillips’s other films are surprisingly savvy on this point: it portrays upper-middle class membership as a free pass through life.

So much of The Hangover presents a glitzy, pre-recession adult playground vision of Vegas not unlike the portrayal of New York in the Sex and the City movie. There’s no mention of the city’s sputtering tourism industry, and nobody bats an eyelid at the $4,200-a-night price tag on the boys’ penthouse suite. In so many ways this is an extended advertisement for spending time and money in Las Vegas (while driving Benzes and fueling up with Monster caffeinated beverages) that I was surprised to see at the end of the credits: “The filmmakers would like to thank the City of Las Vegas” and not “The City of Las Vegas would like to thank the filmmakers.” I’d like to thank The Hangover’s filmmakers for teaching me that: women are bitches; boys are either men or gay; cops are incompetent, vengeful, brutalizing sadists; Asians have high-pitched voices, small genitals and lots of repressed anger; African Americans are dumb dealers and convicted rapist bullies; and money grows on well-tended trees in the suburbs and on craps tables in Vegas. Thanks for the funniest fucking lesson I’ve sat through in a while.

(photo credit: Frank Masi, Warner Bros.)

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