From his earliest films to The Hangover Part III (now on Blu-ray), Todd Phillips has been obsessed with arrested-male debauchery. We analyze his appetite for destruction.
You don’t have to be a great director to be an auteur. Take Todd Phillips, the man behind the Hangover trilogy. The last film in his morning-after franchise, The Hangover Part III (2013, 1 hr., 40 mins., R), is now out on Blu-ray, and while the movie may be about as painful as its titular phenomenon — head-throbbing punishment for the fun we had with the first one — it also serves as a capper to what could be considered Phillips’ statement of purpose. Themes of arrested adolescence, deliberate self-destruction, and the bleaker side of Jägermeister-fueled hedonism have permeated his work since the beginning. His first film, Hated: GG Allin & the Murder Junkies, made while Phillips was still a junior at NYU, documents the life and untimely death of one of punk rock’s most outré denizens. Allin attained infamy for performances that luxuriated in obscenity, defecating and mutilating himself on stage, and he eventually died of a heroin overdose while the film was in postproduction. Phillips’ follow-up doc, Frat House, created for and ultimately rejected by HBO due to controversy over whether some scenes were staged, delves into the terror of college hazing rituals, another instance of curdled male bonding. He later returned to fraternity row with 2003’s middling ode to regression Old School. More recently, Project X, the Phillips-produced found-footage film, took the house-party trope to its apocalyptic extreme. Like the Hangover films, it treats its catastrophic bacchanalia as something to be both revered and feared. Phillips’ fascination with the dark places we go in pursuit of fun lends his comedies a grimy sheen of horror. His characters are literal party animals, reduced to their base tendencies and searching for themselves by first destroying themselves. The Hangover Part III: C-