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

06/05/2009 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.

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.

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.

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?

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.)

8 Comment

  • Henry, I’m sort of with you (though I haven’t seen this movie yet) on Philips seeming like an asshole; I liked Starsky & Hutch, mainly for the Stiller-Wilson chemistry (which usually only turns up as a brief bonus and doesn’t get a whole movie to itself), but Old School is one of the more overrated comedies of this decade (and I say that as a big fan of Ferrell and a moderate fan of Vaughn). To me, the worst thing about Phillips’ female characters is that he’s not interested in making them funny unless MAYBE they’re the butt of the joke (and even then, barely). Starsky & Hutch had those cheerleader roles that could’ve gone to funny ladies to play off Wilson and Stiller; instead the “joke” is that Amy Smart and Carmen Electra are like, really hot, and kiss each other and stuff. Uh, huh. I’ve been a little disappointed that Apatow hasn’t had stronger female presence in the films he works on given the excellent characters in Freaks & Geeks and Undeclared, but watching a Phillips movie really highlights how women may not have the most screentime in Superbad or 40-Year-Old Virgin, but the likes of Jane Lynch, Emma Stone, and Catherine Keener get laughs *and* resemble real human beings.

    All that said, arguing that “getting tasered isn’t funny” because “tasers kill lots of people every year” sounds to me like the epitome of grad-student humorlessness. Loads of people get severely injured falling down every year, but that doesn’t make it not funny in a movie. I imagine someone getting accidentally shot in the head is unspeakably horrific in real life, but that doesn’t make it not funny in Pulp Fiction.

    That’s not to say slapstick can’t turn into sadism, but you have to explain *why* it’s not funny. Because no, getting tasered is *not* inherently unfunny.

  • Hey Jesse, I read your “Weekend at the Movies” piece this morning while we were putting the finishing touches on this and noticed there was a lot of overlap between our two opinions of Mr. Phillips. The worst is the scene I mention in which Cooper tells that woman she’s got nice tits and she flashes him a “hee hee, oh you” smile. Seriously, what the fuck?

    As for the tasers, you’re right, I didn’t explain my point which wasn’t just that tasers kill lots of people every year, but the Taser company denies its responsibility, covering up their complicity and continuing to sell deadly products as safe alternatives to life-threatening weapons…and so depicting those products in an extended sequence as essentially harmless but fuckin’ funny buzzers felt like paid propaganda from an evil corporation. And that’s not funny, right?

  • That’s not so funny, no, or at least it doesn’t sound it. (Though the word “taser” still is. I’m not sure why it is about the “aser” sound, but it makes “laser” really funny, too). I was sort of devil’s-advocating because I tend not to like cartoonishly over-the-top slapstick when used on, you know, actual humans (it’s the Home Alone 2 syndrome) — but I still wouldn’t say tasers are any more out-of-bounds for comedy than any number of other actually-harmful-and-or-evil devices (actual or metaphorical). I’m seeing the movie now so I’ll see how it plays. My hopes aren’t high.

  • My God, Henry… lighten up! It’s a frat-boy comedy. It’s not supposed to be politically correct or make profound social commentary. It’s obviously not intended for unbelievably uptight individuals like yourself so why would you subject yourself to it in the first place?

    I’ve no idea how you saw any of it anyway, with your head that far up your own rectum.

    I’ll bet you’re a riot at parties.

  • @MEast: Are you somebody’s angry dad?

  • The more you make excuses for culture-crumpling bullshit like this, the worse our entire country becomes.

  • I have watched this movie, and I actually found it moderately funny… that is, until Mr. Chow showed up. I am Asian, and my jaw dropped to the floor the second he appeared on screen. I watched it in a theater in a very diverse community, and honestly, the whole place went silent. Here are a few of my issues with that character:

    First of all, the actor playing Mr. Chow is Ken Jeong – a Korean man (who happens to be a doctor and comedian in real life). Ken’s attempt at a “Chinese” accent was indeed horrific and no less offensive than it would have been if performed by Mickey Rooney or anyone else of non-Chinese decent. Just because Koreans are “Asians,” that doesn’t mean it’s okay to use one to make fun of Chinese people. Americans tend to group all of Asia together as a uniform culture, but any Asian person will tell you – We’re just as different as the different countries of Europe. Americans find it so hard to distinguish Chinese, Korean, or Japanese people, but somehow they recognize the difference between the French, Italians, and Germans (even though they all “look the same” too). It all boils down to laziness and ignorance.

    Second, Ken Jeong decided to go full frontal in this movie. Apparently Ken makes it a point to joke about the size of his tiny penis in his regular comedy routine. And having watched this movie, I can report that he’s not kidding. Seriously, he is a medical anomaly. That’s fine. He’s got a wife, and if she’s okay with it, then so be it. But the rest of us Asian men don’t ALL have tiny penises… really. We have been trying to overcome that unfortunate stereotype for years. Up until now, people just went along with the joke even though they didn’t have any “first-hand” viewing experience. Now Ken Jeong flashes his mini-package on screen for millions of people to see, and the stereotype has been officially confirmed in many people’s minds. And what makes it worse is, again, Ken does this while calling himself Chinese. Rather than just embarrassing himself and his own culture, he’s dragging all of China with him and Asian people in general. He really did a disservice to a lot of Asian guys who already find it hard enough to find dates here in America.

    And let’s not get started about his attempt to sound flaming homosexual at the same time. I guess he was trying to offend as many groups as possible. In my case, he definitely succeeded.

  • A propos of nothing, blogger Jack Satin has done some math and calculated what the expenses bill for all the madness the grown frat boys get up to in The Hangover would have looked like, and it’s quite funny: