The Lazy Misogyny Of The Hangover

Not pictured: women.

Not pictured: women.

Director Todd Phillips has no affection for women.

At least, if he does, he’s yet to have it manifest in any of his films.

In 2003’s Road Trip, the memorable female characters consisted of a) an immensely fat black woman who forces herself on D.J. Squalls’ porcelain matchstick body and b) Amy Smart as the bland, briefly topless Beth Wagner. Starsky & Hutch (2004) was predictably, and perhaps more justifiably, male-dominated. Both viewed women as afterthoughts, sporadic punchlines, defined either by their attractiveness, or lack thereof.

School For Scoundrels, a largely ignored Billy Bob Thornton vehicle from 2006, was much of the same, in terms of interesting female characters: there were none. The film was a consistently unfunny attempt to satirise the ‘nice guys finish last’ classes given by ‘pick-up experts’ like David DeAngelo. Thornton played a hardass, whilst Jon ‘I can’t believe Napoleon Dynamite will represent the peak of my career’ Heder played a geek. A variety of women turn up — including a wasted Sarah Silverman — as plot devices.

The Hangover, Phillips’ most recent (and successful, both comedically and commercially) work is arguably the worst of the lot, presenting women as warm-hearted whores, nut-cracking bitches, or spectacular-looking dum dums.

Heather Graham may be the most prominent of the Hangover women. She plays Jade, a seemingly simple, if sweet, lady of the night. She’s inexplicably happy about her shotgun marriage to Stu Price (Ed Helms), despite his lack of charisma, charm, intelligence, or maturity. Why is she so chuffed about her drunken nuptials? The early implication is that she views Price as a source of funds for her baby… who she un-self-consciously allows to suckle on her breast in front of the four primary protagonists.

The script makes no effort to provide Graham with humorous dialogue; the mere fact she’s (at least initially) a money-grubbing prostitute apparently provides humour enough.

The normally likeable, charismatic Graham is reduced to a gold-digging retard, a set of breasts milked for the cheapest of laughs. There’s no complexity to Jade; the only surprise she provides is a slight warmth at the culmination of the film. She is who the audience thinks she’ll be.

Then there’s Rachael Harris as Melissa, the most explicitly misogynist of the characters. Harris plays a cruel, undermining bitch. That’s it. That’s the extent of her character. She exists solely to terrorise her husband, Stu, while acting as a cold counterpoint to the relatively warm-hearted Jade.

Harris is given one good line, when she tells Zach Galifianakis’ character to ‘suck my dick’ (he sweetly replies ‘no, thank you’). It’s telling that this brief glimmer of comedic hope stems from the masculinisation of a woman; Harris gets to be funny once — when she briefly inhabits the voice of a man.

Finally, there’s Sasha Barrese as Tracy Garner, the simplest of roles. She wears a bikini. She holds a phone.

Sasha Barrese

Sasha Barrese

Barrese is an actress — she’s recently appeared in CSI: Miami and Supernatural — but you wouldn’t know it by The Hangover. Her role as a concerned bride-to-be asks her to perform two functions: appearing simultaneously confused and attractive; or angry and attractive. Like Harris, she’s offered nothing by her cock-centric director. She’s an afterthought, a blank space for the more interesting, developed male characters to speak into.

These roles hardly testify to a confidence in Phillips that his female cast members can hold their comedic own.

Of course, Phillips — and his legions of fratboy fans — might argue that The Hangover is about men, just like Old School, and School for Scoundrels, and Starsky & Hutch, and Road Trip and, as such, bear little obligation to the inclusion of womb-owners.

At best, the argument indicts Phillips as a director clinically incapable of dedicating substantial screentime to women; it implies he has no interest in women as characters, or actors.

At worst, it belies a deliberate antipathy towards an entire gender, combined with a bizarre and persistent obsession with men.

Judd Apatow shares that obsession with men — specifically, the process by which boys grow up — but he treats his female characters with at least a little care. When Katherine Heigl was on-screen in Knocked Up, it wasn’t wasted time. Unlike Heather Graham in The Hangover, Heigl was more than a set of tits and a smile.

Apatow has received his share of criticism for treating women as shrill, whining afterthoughts, but at least those women act with intent. They have motive. And they’re given comedic respect — think of Elizabeth Banks in The 40 Year Old Virgin, who engages in an increasingly bawdy, sexually charged conversation with Steve Carrell. A part that could have easily been cheap and obvious (‘ho ho ho! This woman is talking so slutty!’) is transformed by Banks’ cheeky performance, and the equal camera time she receives.

The challenge for Phillips? Write a fully-formed female character, with complex motivations, rich desires, and a sense of existence not completely dependent upon and defined by her relationship with a man.

Based on his track record, Todd might find that difficult.

Posted By: Anton


38 responses to “The Lazy Misogyny Of The Hangover

  1. Thure Lindhardt

    Women are boring. If they weren’t pretty they wouldn’t be in movies at all.

  2. Shut up you stupid bitch.

  3. Give the bimbo a few funny lines just to be PC? I thought that we were past that.
    If you don’t like Phillips’ movies, don’t watch them. I’m sure that Thelma and Louise, or even Wendy and Lucy are still available on NetFlix. Wouldn’t want you out of your comfort zone,

  4. Consider the way that men are portrayed on tv sitcoms: An either unattractive, unintelligent, or overweight buffoon (or all of the above) married to a disproportionately more attractive woman that patiently puts up with his idiocy. For Todd Phillips to flip the script on this trend with the way woman are portrayed in “The Hanover” would require him to portray them much, MUCH worse than they are.

    A question I have to ask is, “Why?” Why do women have to be portrayed as anything but these perfect, well-developed, complex characters when they aren’t even remotely central to the plot (finding Doug)? Why can’t men have a movie for themselves to enjoy without being…nagged…about misogyny? Why aren’t more articles written about the misandry men constantly face and silently endure lest they be vilified as politically incorrect neanderthal patriarchs?

    Give them some peace and just let them watch the movie.

  5. The film’s bases is a bachelor party, did you expect this film to be a chick flick?

  6. Guess you forgot the part where she call stu dr. faggot after phil does. Seen it three times, each time gets huge laughs.

  7. by the same measure, except for the “gay best friend” ,which is a degrading cliché in itself, guys are not really developed in movies or even series for women/girls. e.g. the jock in teen girl movies. guess what: in the shawshank redemption there are basically NO women in the entire movie and it is rated #1 on the imdb top 250 films of all time.

    the plot wouldn’t have supported an important part for women because it was about a bachelor party.

  8. The Shawshank Redemption was a film solely concerning men, in a setting where there are no women (a prison). The lack of women made total sense.

    The fact is there WERE women in the Hangover, and they could have had interesting and/or funny lines. As it was, they were wasted space. They were weak narrative devices.

    ‘Dr. Faggot’ was funny, and I did neglect that. But it’d be even funnier if the woman was semi-sympathetic or vaguely interesting or had some sort of personal history, instead of an outright mean-spirited fuckhead.

  9. It’s sad that so many of these comments take issue with the idea that the author isn’t ‘letting men have their movie’.

    Or that to criticise Phillips’ representation of women (present in EVERY ONE of his films so far) is somehow ignoring the fact that The Hangover is ‘not a chick flick’ – a fact that is somehow supposed to absolve the film from any responsibility it might have to respect its female characters.

    These artificial divisions along gender lines are offensive to both genders. A film can be targeted to a specific audience without actively alienating others.

    Apatow showed that men can be given a voice in film without damning the ‘womb-owners’. A point made by the author of this shrewd and well-balanced post – and interestingly ignored by those who’ve criticised it.

    ‘The Hangover’ incensed me not because it wasn’t funny or clever at all- but because it could have been so much better in the hands of someone who’s prepared to look beyond the whore/madonna dichotomy.

    Please don’t be scared off by these shit-heads, Anton. It’s nice to read something – in the sea of unthinking self-congratulation that surrounds this film’s success – that reflects the frustration I felt after seeing this film.

  10. Hmm… got a bit riled-up there re: shit-heads.

    Esp. Lydia – def not a shithead.

  11. but Lydia … how does misandry justify misogyny? all those gross hideous man sitcoms piss me off just as much as sexism towards women.

    hangover’s an awesome movie but there’s no reason to waste female characters. especially when heather graham can be HILARIOUS if you’d let her.

    but what I really hate is the idea that this isn’t mean to be a chick flick. um … do we get special movies now? movies full of women and witty gays and men with american hair and odd bisexual vibes like hugh dancy.

    if I have to spend the rest of my life watching movies like 27 dresses I would rather stab myself in the eye.

  12. You should consider watching Crank High Voltage.

    The film is misogynist, homophobic, racist, bigoted, violent, full of foul-mouthed characters, crass, insane, obscene, surreal to the extreme, completely nonsensical and borderline pornographic.

    I think you will start a riot against its . lol

  13. against it*

  14. This is a movie about men, mostly made for men.

    Who why do you give a shit, really? Who fucking cares.

  15. Really, because it’s offensive to men when they are uglier than their wives in sitcoms.

    Those sitcoms you speak of, and really all male movies too, always have some fat loser ending up with a beautiful woman. It only contributes to the notion that a woman’s worth is based on her looks and body, and a man’s is based on everything else, so he can be funny, sweet, rich, etc. and still get the girl.

    I think most of the above posters are idiots. Why do you think calling a film out on its misogyny is “taking away a man’s movie?” Is there a proviso that to be a man you must also be homophobic and a misogynist?

    I don’t know why you feel so attached to this film. It was “written” by two guys who probably answered to a studio committee who sat around saying, “Hmm, we need a faggot joke here–that worked well in Knocked Up. Oh, and let’s put a hooker with a heart of gold here, people like that.”

    This film panders to your ignorant sensibilities and doesn’t at all criticize your views of yourselves or those around you (esp. women and minorities), just to get your fifteen bucks, and then you defend it if someone criticizes it.

    It’s like having an emotional response to Wendy’s.

  16. Calling the Hangover misogynist is like called The Bridget Jones Diaries misandrist (towards men).

    This movie wasn’t about women. And we’ve all met women like those in this movie. The bitch, the whore – they do really exist. And yes, that whore, “that’s somebody’s daughter”!

  17. Yes, Matt, the point you are expressing is that there exists archetypes for women, and in a film about men the women shall be archetypal, and in a film about women the men shall be archetypal.

    I don’t think it’s fair to compare Bridget Jones to Hangover, because it at least tries to present male characters as individuals, while Hangover doesn’t even attempt this.

    But don’t you see anything wrong with presenting groups of people as archetypes? Stereotypes? Cliches?

    Apart from being wrong, I think it’s boring, and intellectually inflexible. And people who are intellectually inflexible shouldn’t be able to vote.

  18. Re: Daria’s point on Bridget Jones — exactly! Hugh Grant and Colin Firth may play archetypes — the charming rogue, and the sweet, nervous guy respectively — but they’re both given history, and a sense of purpose.

    I also find it a little comical that people are asking me to let men ‘have their film.’ Really? Because there’s a real lack of male-centric films around.

  19. I’m so absolutely disheartened by the first few comments on here, specifically the “PC’ one. Thank you so much for making this post. I found the film absolutely hysterical, but was troubled with its female characters in a way I couldn’t quite articulate. I still think the film was really funny, but am disgusted upon thinking about how the female characters were portrayed. You made some incredibly good points here, particularly about the one good line Rachel Harris has. Don’t be afraid to keep making good posts like this, we’re listening.

  20. Misognist is a bit strong isn’t it? Just because these types of films don’t develop their female characters doesn’t mean the director or viewers hate them. Perhaps you could say “Todd Philips paints a fairly unflattering picture of women in his films”, not such a snappy blog title though.

    By the way, I was watching a film the other day
    with two male characters, one who never appears on screen, whose only acts are to rape their daughters and get murdered. An excellent film but in no way a fair or balanced view of men, but that isn’t what I expect of film.

  21. In my opinion, your entire ergument is an informal fallacy. You hand pick three minor characters, who happen to be women, and proclaim them to be “unfunny”, a point that is purely opinion and should be disregarded. I thought they were hilarious in their roles as character actors, which exist in EVERY movie ever made. They just happen to be women since this film is predicated on a bachelor party. The movie would be 5 hours long if every character was developed.

    In addition, their characters were actually quite relevant to the plot: the wedding, the trip to Vegas, Ed Helms’ character’s neurotic behaviour, etc.

    I really see no evidence of misogyny. Your evidence consists of a bunch of name calling and personal opinion, and is unconvincing at best.

  22. Humour is subjective. Show me how to objectively assess funniness, and I’ll give a shot. Until then, what can I do but go with my gut?

  23. You’re missing my point. Whether you found the characters funny or not isn’t proof of the director’s supposed misogyny.

  24. Who the fuck cares what the author thinks? Its a hilarious movie and its not meant to be an emotional rollercoaster or whatever. Its soul purpose is not to degrade women, but to provide cheap laughs because that’s what people like: laughing at nothing particularly serious. Not EVERY movie needs to have indepth female characters. If this one did, it’d probably lost a whole lot of the humourous “alpha-male” aspects of the film.

    I’m all for respecting women but god, sometimes you people take things way too seriously. Lighten up and make your own film about sensitive women who hate men because they’re the spawn of satan.

    *eye roll

  25. Honestly you bitches need to shut up and go make a sandwich.

  26. Really? You should have heard my wife when I had to go to Las Vegas . . . for a funeral!

  27. well men usually don’t go to vegas for a bachelor party with their wives/girlfriends. and in vegas you aren’t going to find too many susan b. anthony’s around.

    • Hey, Brandi. Sex is okay . . . even fun.

      Men go to Vegas for lots of reasons. Families go to Vegas. And many women go to Vegas for the same reason men do.

      By the way, men usually don’t go to any kind of bachelor party, even tame ones like the one I hosted as a best man, with their wives or girlfriends. You chicks don’t have to be everywhere your man goes. But you’ll probably lean this after you get married and realize being a snooping shrew doesn’t work for your hubby, hopefully before it’s too late.

  28. this movie sucked ass

  29. In Anchorman, the woman was the straight man in a room full of dorks. I trust Judd Apatow not for making a room full of dorks, but for making movies in which, like Quentin Tarantino, women are actual people. The flimsy connection–someone was in something that someone else was in and it was funny–gave me the impression that this movie had something to do with reality. I was wrong.

    It came down to the line about women not understanding that men just have to do what they’ve got to do. (Cheat, steal, lie and get tased.)

    Really, men who made this movie? This is what you think of yourselves?

    I believe that men are better.

    The movie seems to imply that women are the authorities over men, but also must be told what to do. Fuck that. Men can move into the 21st century and so can women.

    It doesn’t help, the 2 dimensional authority figures that women are in this movie.

    There is no war between women and men, only an itch. Turning it into “Why don’t women understand that we want them to do everything and then cheat on them” war makes a writer nothing more than a dipshit.

    The writer managed to wrangle in a whole bunch of people who kinda thought he was alright, read their lines and never thought about it again.

  30. I finally saw this movie, or at least part of it. I read the first few comments under this post and was surprised by how hostile and cruel they were. I agree: this movie was terribly misogynistic. I thought I would watch it all the way through because I usually like Zach Galifinakis, but the misogyny was too much. It could have been a funny movie without misogyny, but I guess it’s easier to just be a lazy writer and rely on cheap, ignorant, misogynist cliches.

  31. Was it misogynistic? Sure. And your criticisms were on point but who cares? It was so damn funny…

  32. it is, perhaps, a little full on to regard the film as ‘woman hating’.
    certainly, though, your points are valid and the dull roles that women play in the film are a let down.
    i find it interesting that this film caters almost entirely to men, yet has garnered a wide audience of both men and women. the sex and the city movies, for instance, work in a similar way yet are regarded as ‘chick flicks’. i think the difference in spectatorial tendencies of men and women is incredibly interesting. most men would have to be dragged to the sex movies, while a lot of women eagerly awaited the hangover sequal.

    would you regard this as indication of widerspread misogyny in the community? perhaps homophobia?

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  34. Couldn’t agree more. You also forgot about Phil’s wife–who embraces him back from Vegas with zero conflict at all, indicating that she’s either: a) not in his confidence in a regular way or b) “so cool” she doesn’t care if her narcissistic man-child of a husband gets up to “boys will be boys” antics in “Vegas”. Option b is the type of character Heigl plays in knocked up. She’s a warm-hearted hottie content to exist in a relationship on level with 13 year old boys’ relational ideals. She’s undemanding, sexually available, and happy to be objectified. That makes perfect sense, that Apatow and co are obsessed with boyhood and afraid of women (and, apparently, of other three-dimensional human beings). And Bradley cooper plays borderline sociopathic boys’-men characters with an eerie amount of ease.

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