I had a great discussion tonight with Derek (@dereklanger for you twitterholics) about why The Hangover worked for us, when Old School (both from director Todd Phillips) failed to impress either of us. We came to the decision that it was a combination of several factors that set The Hangover apart, not the least of which was a decision made by the writers to take the high road, and grant a marginal amount of intelligence to their viewers.
Generally, we avoid seeing comedies in the theater. Being on a modest budget as we claw our way into our chosen field, we usually spend on movies that will deliver more in the theater than our BluRay and LCD can achieve at home; most of the time this doesn't include comedies (romantic or otherwise) without a substantial amount of special effects. The Hangover was an exception, since it had come highly recommended and we were looking for a group-friendly show on a Saturday evening. We were duly impressed.
The Hangover is atypical of its genre because it does not write its characters into a corner and then inform you that the walls in the corner are white. Instead, the writers have written characters that embody some of the traits necessary to foster humorous reactions and a wide variety of jokes, but they allow them to grow on you slowly. They provide a wonderful platform for you to relate to each character by giving them a voice of their own to tell you who they are, and what they are struggling with instead of having characters B and C tell you that A is an uptight loser who brushes his teeth sixteen times a day. This, coupled with using relatively unknown actors who do not bring their typecast to every role they accept breathes new life into a genre that is begging Jim Carey and Will Ferrell to take a vacation.
This got me to thinking about the guts it takes to write the high road. It is always easier to have Mr. A tell you that Mr. B is a forty year old virgin, who will likely never get laid (better yet, why not have the title inform you of that) but it is a subtle art to get the character to tell you about himself, through his reactions, his lifestyle, even his puce cashmere sweater. I want to learn to be the type of writer who always takes the high road. Lending intelligence to your audience increases the likeliness that smart people will want to see your film, and plays Darwin to the ones who really should just be in Space Chimps which is likely in the larger air conditioned theater down the hall.