Dir. Todd Phillips. USA. 2009.

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One of the great stories of the last year in film has been the unlikely success of this comedy that went from good word of mouth to general acclaim to breakout status, culminating in a Golden Globe for Best Comedy/Musical a few weeks ago, and a likely Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay and an outside chance as one of the 10 nominations for Best Picture, if the Academy should decide to give comedy a compulsory nom; much like a jazz album always receives a nod for the Mercury Prize.
With that in mind and with a fresh DVD copy as a Christmas present, I spent my Sunday evening getting re-acquainted with Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms), Alan (Zach Galifinakis) and Doug (Justin Bartha) in Vegas. It was certainly worth the effort as the film is as funny as when I first saw it, up there with Bruno as the funniest film of the year.
It works because as a premise it is one you are surprised has not been used before, four guys go away on a bachelor (stag) weekend to America's adult playground, Las Vegas for a night of drinking, gambling and fun.  When they wake up however, they cannot remember what happened and why there friend Doug has disappeared. It is a brilliant narrative construct because it allows the audience to see what happens the same time as the three main leads, so your surprise is mirrored by them; therefore, a connection between the audience and characters is immediate and sympathetic.  Half the stuff they do, you cannot believe; whilst on other occassions you think you can telegraph what is going to happen but the script keeps surprising you - Chinese mob bosses, Mike Tyson, wedding ceremonies.
At the start it is interesting to see how much of an outcast Alan is to the group, a one man wolfpack he refers to himself as. But as the three guys retrace their horrific steps, they become stronger as a unit and that old adage, 'what happens in vegas stays in vegas' (you only wish that happened to that Kutcher-Diaz mess). 
Their is a companionship and brotherhood between the three that is paramount, they must find Doug before it is too late and their drive to do so is of utmost importance.  It is good to see what can be considered a gross-out comedy have moments of genuine tenderness, while the film is more akin to the genre of 'bromance' films and the stable of Apatow oeurve. The slow build up of Alan becoming more like Phil in his actions and at the wedding, Alan turns to Stu and says, 'Do you like my hair? Is it classic Phil?' Stu takes a moment and full of admiration and respect for Alan, 'Its classic Phil'. 
Rarely do American films have these moments of friendship, sometimes throwing them on the cutting room floor, but Todd Phillips (Road Trip, Old School) has slowly built up his repetoire from teenage to trying to reclaim teenage glory to male adulthood friendship.  It is all the more surprising as the writers' (Jon Lucas and Scott Moore) previous credits were 'Four Christmases' and 'Ghost of Girlfriend's Past' - inferior works or maybe just films that did not have a director whose conviction was to execute it correctly. You could start a discussion like Pauline Kael did - who deserves more credit Phillips or Lucas/Moore, it is telling that at the Globes, Phillips went up to receive the award with the cast with the writers somewhat conspicuous by their absence.  The director and the strong ensemble cast deserve the credit - they all have moments to shine and take the opportunity to do so, once they clear their heads.
Recommended tonight and the morning after.
Jamie Garwood

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