When the Hangover franchise is looked at as a whole, it’s interesting to view the entire storyline as being focused on Zach Galifianakis’ Alan. In the first movie he is brought out of his shell and winds up having the best night of his life with Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Doug (Justin Bartha), some of the few people in the world who he can call friend. The sequel is then Alan’s desperate attempt to reach out again and try to recreate the bonding magic of the Wolfpack’s first night together – though it winds up being a disaster if gauged by the anger it induces in his friends. So at the beginning of Part III we find Alan as a broken, lonely, sociopathic, off-his-meds rich kid with zero discipline. It’s not hard to see why co-writer Craig Mazin and co-writer and director Todd Phillips decided it was Alan that the final movie needed to center around.
For the end of the Hangover franchise Warner Bros. organized a press day in Las Vegas where myself and a group of other journalists had the chance to talk with Phillips and Mazin about the franchise finale, The Hangover Part III. You can read the conversation below, the two filmmakers talking about not just putting more focus on Alan’s story, but also the extra challenge that comes with making a dark comedy, inserting special callbacks and Easter Eggs into the story, and making sure to maintain a certain tone.
Did you know when you finished The Hangover Part II where you wanted to go with Part III?
Todd Phillips: We talked about it while we were making [Hangover] II, about what we would do. We knew we wanted to do another one. There’s probably five legitimate different versions of The Hangover III in terms of directions it could have gone. We didn’t settle on this one until we sat down in the summer and started to write - two summers ago.
Craig Mazin: Prior to that there were some big ideas. He would call me. I would call him and say, “Ok that is a big idea.” But then there was a moment where you sort of say, “Ok, here are these three or four big plot points. Let’s talk about how this is actually a movie. How is satisfying? Why do we care and how do we make this a true end, so that it in fact ends.” It needs to end.
Todd Phillips: Yeah, exactly. We really wanted it to feel like an ending. We really thought Alan was the one character that needed to be healed still, and it just felt naturally that it should be Alan’s story.
I’m curious about the darkness of this franchise, because it’s gotten darker with every installment. This is a hugely successful movie for Warner Bros., so I’m wondering if that allows you more creative freedom, and if that freedom is what led you to bring it to darker places. And what is the appeal of making such a dark film within the comedy genre as opposed to making a drama?
Todd Phillips: It’s cooler. It seems cooler. [laughs] Yeah, I think that filmmakers in their very nature are dark people. I think that as you get more freedom, I think if you look at Pirates of the Caribbean, it gets darker as the series goes on because they got a little more freedom and a little more confidence and they got to sort of move their arms around a little bit and I think that’s what happened with The Hangover. I think my tastes tend to lie a little bit... I think if you rewatch Hangover 1, it’s dark too.
Yeah, it’s a natural evolution.
Todd Phillips: It’s a natural evolution. It just feels like a more interesting place to go with comedy. It’s more challenging because it’s like, “How am I supposed to laugh? They just killed [spoiler removed]. How am I supposed to laugh here?” And two seconds later we have a giant laugh in the movie where Alan is like, “Can you bring me sweatpants?” So, to me, it’s a challenging and more fun way to do it. And, also, I think it gives the movie a little more depth.
Craig Mazin: Dramatically you start with a movie and if the second one is, I don’t know, lower stakes, at that point, you might as well just make a movie about the guys raising their kids.
Todd Phillips: Well, that’s interesting too. It helps raise the stakes as we go along. I think that happened. I think that’s a good point.