(SPOILERS: The Hangover)
Last time I talked about the set pieces in The Hangover (written by Jon Lucas & Scott Moore). Today I want to look at some of the scenes of preparation and aftermath that surround them. Scenes of preparation and aftermath are important in a movie because they allow us to touch base emotionally with the characters and “lay the pipe” for the bigger scenes.
The most obvious aftermath scene actually rises to a set piece in its own right: the scene where the guys wake up with their hangovers. They discover all kinds of strange things – Stu’s missing a tooth, there’s a tiger in the bathroom and a baby in the closet. It’s all hilarious, but we also see Stu’s panic and Phil’s amusement, letting us connect with their characters’ emotions.
One of the things I think made The Hangover so successful is we really care about these three guys. That emotional attachment comes in the down time between the big comedic moments where we can see the characters react to what just happened and express their expectations of what’s to come.
One of the best examples of that is the scene where the guys are waiting for their car in the impound lot. Stu is pissed off at the way the cops have just treated them. But Alan is worried. He confides to Phil that he fears something really bad may have happened to Doug. Phil comforts him, and then Stu tries to reassure him with a new plan – to search the car for clues.
It’s neither a particularly funny nor particularly memorable scene, but it is important because it reminds us that there’s a person they care about who might be in danger. This gives the story emotional stakes. We care about the outcome because we care about these guys.
I mentioned the interlude in the Tyson/tiger set piece last post, when Stu plays piano and sings. It’s a goofy moment, but it does remind us of those emotional stakes, particularly with the last line: “But if he’s (Doug) been murdered by crystal-meth tweakers, well, then we’re shit out of luck.” The moment plays for emotion, not laughs.
Each time we pause for these reactions, the guys’ fear has escalated. In the breakfast scene Stu’s a little worried, Phil and Alan less so. But they assume it’ll be pretty easy to find Doug. In the aftermath of the wedding chapel scene, and the attack of the bat wielding thugs, they’ve started to realize things got more out of control the previous night than they thought. In the impound lot Alan worries that Doug might be dead, which spreads to the other guys in the musical interlude of the tiger scene. Finally, after they discover Mr. Chow’s hostage is not their Doug, they’ve given up all hope.
Aftermath scenes are also useful to give us the closure of the happy ending. We end the movie with the guys at the wedding looking at the pictures on the camera together and reveling in their adventure and friendship. It’s not a plot scene, it’s a scene that gives us a resolution to the emotional journey.
Preparation and aftermath scenes can serve another function – setting up the bigger set pieces. They give you an opportunity to plant things you will need and perhaps deal with some exposition. For example, the waking up scene plants many of the clues that the guys will need to piece together their lost night.
The waking up scene is followed by the breakfast scene where the guys start making their plan to find Doug – a scene of preparation. They lay out their plan to follow the various clues, starting with the hospital. These scenes are the mortar between the bricks that are building the story.
Different kinds of movies need different things from their preparation and aftermath scenes. Because it’s a broad comedy, The Hangover uses its preparation and aftermath scenes primarily to connect us with the characters as human beings so we care about the outcome of the slapstick comedy.