I happened to re-watch one of my favorite comedies of all time the other day and I have to say that “The Hangover” hasn’t lost any of its punch in the past six years (well, it will be six on this coming June 5). As I re-watched it, I was able to enjoy a bit more about the film than the first few times I watched it since I wasn’t bent over laughing at the non-stop comedy. So, today I’m not specifically reviewing “The Hangover,” but comparing its strong points to great classic comedy films going back four decades to 1978 and what I saw as the second greatest comedy in my life: “National Lampoon’s Animal House” (of course the first was – and still is – “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” from 1975). From the 1980s is “Caddyshack;” from the 1990s is “American Pie;” you’ve already read about “The Hangover” from the 2000s; and finally from the current decade we have “We’re the Millers.”
‘Animal House’ | ‘Caddyshack’
‘American Pie’ | ‘The Hangover’
‘We’re the Millers’
(click links in the movies below for director, cast and running time of each)
THERE’S MORE TO COMEDY THAN JOKES
OK, before any of the few people who actually follow my movie reviews on this blog get critical of the comedy films I’ve chosen to highlight in each of the five decades here, please understand I’m not saying that these were the only funny films of each respective decade. Far from it … but you’d be hard-pressed to find any better in each decade.
I’m writing today after re-watching “The Hangover.” It is a superb R-rated comedy. It is gross; it has adult themes; and the language would get you kicked out of any decent establishment. However, it is hysterical not just because of the situation, but because the filmmakers used creativity to segue from one comedy piece to another while actually weaving an intricately-told tale that in other hands would have flopped.
After all, you might think, how creative can a blackout movie be? Just check out “The Hangover” to find out. Jim Carrey’s “Liar Liar” did the same thing in the one-joke movie category. So, the reason that I’m extolling the virtues of “The Hangover” is because several other films from past decades do the same thing – take a topic done before and then do it better than the rest. The films are from the five decades moving from the 1970s until today (if you’re keeping count that’ 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, and the tens) are:
- “Animal House” from 1978
- “Caddyshack” from 1980
- “American Pie” from 1999
- “The Hangover” from 2009
- “We’re the Millers” from 2013
“The Hangover” does the blackout story with a master’s touch. Its director, Todd Phillips, will probably never do anything as good again (and hadn’t before) but he does a great job in showing how the hungover boys piece together a night that ends up with a destroyed hotel room; a tiger in the bathroom; and a baby left in in a cabinet. Plus, little details (such as the valet pulling up in the police cruiser they left at their hotel that nigh) are crucial in being a bridge from one joke situation to the next.
Also, “The Hangover” has an outstanding cast. None of the actors were totally A-list at the time, but several, such as Ed Helms, had great comedy chops and the filmmakers obviously went with an end-product in mind instead of it being a “vehicle” for a single star.
A similar tale is told in “American Pie,” which elevates the teenage sex thing to a new level. Its ensemble cast wasn’t top of the heap at the time, but they turned it into a pretty neat franchise (at least through the third, then … crap!). Again, how creative can you get with the teen-sex stuff? Well, you’ll find it here – especially with a truly innovative nerd with a taste for single-malt scotch, an atypical athlete and the stereotyped over-macho-ed athlete. It all ends up with an ending that, while predictable, is accomplished and therefore accomplishes – just take the “band camp” girl and how she turns (and puts) out.
However, for “American Pie,” one of its initial secrets that has since become a noted cornerstone is the supporting work by as talented funnyman Eugene Levy as “Noah Levenstein” (you know him as “Jim’s Dad”). It is a bit of unexpected embarrassing humor that makes you want to see more of him.
As to great casting, you cannot get any better than the frat house comedy “Animal House.” It is simply the casting art elevated to perfection. Each and every member of the cast truly becomes their character. Against this backdrop you have the writing perfection of the heart and soul of National Lampoon and this one shouldn’t have been a surprise, but was one.
Further, “Animal House” was creative with some of its stereotypes and didn’t have to rely on sheer talent to carry the day. For example, John Belushi’s over-the-top character of “Bluto” hits the jackpot when he peeks in the windows of a sorority house – in another film, at just the penultimate moment he would have been thwarted. Not here. He cashes in with what he (and you) get to see.
Although “Caddyshack” did benefit from some of the same creative well that made “Animal House” so great (writers Harold Ramis and legendary National Lampoon editor Doug Kenney), it elevates its genre (sports comedy) in such a way that many of its scenes remain classic and used as jokes on golf courses today – 35 years after its premiere. A film doesn’t set such a mark with a crappy film. “Caddyshack” does its segue stuff as well as any of the others, but these scenes were different to string together since they play to golf stereotypes.
Finally today I’ll give praise to a more recent comedy: “We’re the Millers.” It’s the story of a minor-league drug dealer who recruits a stripper, a runaway and a boy from next door to be his all-American family on a smuggling mission. The stereotypes could abound, but the cast and filmmakers pull his one off in a big way.
“We’re the Millers” not only has creativity with stereotypes, but also goes beyond them with fall-down funny scenes such as the one where the “mom” and “sister” wind up giving kissing advice to the “son” – and is spotted by someone else. A great scene done perfectly. Overall, though, “We’re the Millers” has more weaknesses than the others mentioned here (Helms’ character, for example, is a shadow of what he did in “The Hangover”), but executes the rest so well that I put it in the others’ company without reservation.
Of course there are tons of great comedies from each the five decades I’ve mentioned, but since these are so familiar you can watch them again and check out the points I’ve made. You’ll not only have a good time with the films, but you might notice something about them you didn’t realize before. You certainly won’t have a comedy hangover here.
© Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples, 2015.
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