The Double Feature: The Hangover and Wet Hot American Summer
In honor of the impending Nov. 21 release of David O. Russell’s new film, Silver Linings Playbook, this month’s double feature isn’t built around a theme, it’s built around a performer: Bradley Cooper. In Russell’s film, Cooper, who is known for playing handsome cads in movies like The Hangover franchise and Limitless, is taking on the role of an unstable man who has lost everything and is forced to move back home. His performance is already generating Oscar buzz, and I suspect the film will mark a turning point in Cooper’s career.
I’ve been a fan of Cooper since his early television work in series like Jack & Bobby and Alias, so seeing his career take off in recent years has been exciting. Now that he’s poised to test his box office draw with a less commercial role, there is no better time to take a look back at his first major film role in the madcap ensemble comedy, Wet Hot American Summer and the film that made him a household name, The Hangover.
In 2009, The Hangover surprised everyone by becoming both a critical and commercial success, a feat very few bawdy, R-rated comedies can boast. The tale of a Vegas bachelor party gone wrong has the strength of its core trio to thank for all those accolades. Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis’s immense chemistry is an indispensable asset to the film. It elevates all of their mishaps, from finding the tiger in their bathroom to the long search for the missing groom, above the standard comedy of errors format. It’s a buddy movie epic that doesn’t slow down once during its 100 minute running time. That nonstop joke-a-minute spirit has ensured the film’s place in the Hollywood comedy pantheon, but in the future, The Hangover will likely be remembered as the film that launched the careers of Galifianakis, Helms and Cooper.
Prior to The Hangover, Helms was already a known quantity in the comedy world to some degree, whereas Galifianakis and Cooper were virtual unknowns as far as the mainstream public were concerned (TV fans were another story). The two performers are complete opposites in terms of looks and acting styles, but both of them are scene-stealers in their own right. As Alan, the film’s lovable weirdo, Galifianakis immediately stole the show. His insanity is endearing, rather than grating, which is a delicate tightrope for any performer to walk. Cooper faced a similar challenge in the role of Phil, a married Lothario, but he managed to bring charm to a role that could have easily devolved into smarminess in lesser hands.
Now that the film seems destined to become another endless franchise, it’s easy to forget just how much fun that first installment was. Watching the guys unravel the Memento-style mystery of their lost night of debauchery is still a pleasure, maybe even more so now that the film’s likable stars have taken over Hollywood.
Eight years prior to The Hangover, Bradley Cooper popped up in Wet Hot American Summer, a film that boasts one of the best comedic ensembles to ever grace the big screen. Directed by David Wain, Wet Hot American Summer stars comedy heavyweights like Amy Poehler, Paul Rudd, Molly Shannon, Michael Ian Black and David Hyde Pierce. Virtually ever actor in the film would spend the rest of the decade taking over various corners of the comedy world. Weirdly, Wet Hot American Summer was not a hit when it was released. It baffled critics with its eccentric humor, and moviegoers just never showed up to partake in its satirical brilliance. Like most films that are misunderstood in their own time, Wet Hot American Summer is now a cult classic with a vocal contingent of celebrity fans, like Kristen Bell.
The film takes place on the last day of summer camp at Camp Firewood, and focuses on the counselors’ final attempts to sleep with one another before they return to their normal lives. That’s the simple summary. The truth is there’s nothing simple about Wet Hot American Summer. Before the film is over, the standard romantic plots have given way to all manner of randomness from saving the camp from falling space debris to talking soup cans and showstopping talent show numbers. In between, we get to witness performers like Poehler, Rudd and Cooper reveling in the superb nuttiness of it all.
Cooper’s role in the film is comparatively small, and he spends much of his time playing alongside the more overtly comedic Poehler and Black, but he still shines as the perpetually upbeat Ben. It’s interesting to see him at the start of his career, acting with so many performers who would breakout over the next decade. Wet Hot American Summer is an oddball sort of film, but it has an amazing cast and it’s hilarious–two great reasons to give it a chance.
As far as humor goes, The Hangover and Wet Hot American Summer are on two different ends of the comedy spectrum. Films don’t get much more accessible than The Hangover, whereas Wet Hot American Summer is an acquired taste. They do share two important things though: a taste for the madcap and Bradley Cooper. Watching the films together allows us to see the breadth of Cooper’s talents. In Wet Hot American Summer, he plays a sweet, gay camp counselor who is often overshadowed by his droll boyfriend (Black) and bossy best friend (Poehler). Fast forward eight years and Cooper slips just easily into the role of a roguish jerk in The Hangover.
It’s exciting to see a talented performer coming into his own after struggling to gain traction in Hollywood for so many years. Line up a double feature of Wet Hot American Summer and The Hangover prior to heading out to the theater to see Silver Linings Playbook this month. It will allow you to get a better feel for the arc of Cooper’s career, and you’ll be able to tell the new fans that Cooper’s latest role will surely earn him that he’s been a great performer all along.
Are you excited about seeing Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook? If so, will you be partaking in this month’s Double Feature? Share your thoughts below!
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