What ‘The Hangover’ Got Right About Domestic Abuse
Updated: Apr 23, 2022
What do those rationalizations sound like when a man says them?
Image by Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay
Guys, you don’t understand. Melissa checks my [credit card] statements. — Dr. Stuart Price
The first time I watched The Hangover (2009), I thought to myself, Damn, every abused woman needs to watch this. She needs to see what it looks like.
One character is an unaware domestic abuse victim. Dr. Stuart Price, derided as ‘Dr. Faggot’ by his sophomoric friends, lives with a deeply unpleasant control freak who controls and monitors him, who once hit him, and on one memorable cruise at which Stuart was not present, had sex with — some cruise member. No one can seem to remember his occupation.
If you’re not familiar with the movie, it’s funny as hell and one of the few original movies Hollywood has managed to produce in the last twenty years. Which means there are no heroes in rubber muscle suits saving the world from improbable villains, no monosyllabic he-men inflicting far-right values and toxic masculinity on indigenous people, nor does it pretend to any deep meaning. It’s a hilarious whodunit in which they try to piece together what happened in Vegas during a bachelor party gone awry when one accidentally slips them roofies in Jagermeister.
Stu has to lie to Melissa, his partner, to get permission to go on this weekend, because it’s easier than fighting with her over Vegas. He tells her they’re in Napa Valley.
When he announces to his friends what he intends to do when they get home, they explode with disbelief, particularly Phil, a frat boy type unhappy with his suburban life and job, but he’s the genuine voice of reason when Stu shows them the ring.
Phil : If it’s what I think it is, it’s a big fucking mistake! Doug : She’s not that bad. Phil : Doug, she beats him! Stu : That was once, and I was out of line.
“Wait, have you not listened to anything I have ever said?” Phil asks. Clearly, he’s spoken to Stu many times over the three years he’s been with Melissa. Stu tells him it’s time, (for getting engaged), and ‘this is how it works.’
“A, that is bullshit, and B, she is a complete bitch,” Phil says, voicing what the audience thought when first introduced to Melissa, who reminds Stu to pack his Rogaine because she can always tell when his hair gets thinner (with a look of disgust) and hectoring him about not going to any strip clubs in case Phil should happen to ‘sniff one out’ in Napa Valley.
She won’t let him kiss her goodbye; she’s miffed he even dared to go on an excursion without her. Maybe she’s afraid he’ll fuck the bartender, or whatever, too.
“She beats him,” he reminds his friends. Stu tells him Melissa is ‘strong-willed,’ and he ‘respects that’.
“Wow. Wow. He’s in denial. Not to mention, she fucked a sailor,” Phil states.
There’s no difference when a woman says these things.
It sounds no less ridiculous. Phil may be an annoying juvenile pig, but he talks real turkey with Stu and lets him know Melissa’s treatment of him is not okay. Melissa is a bitch and although no one ever utters the abuse word, it’s what we’re all thinking. He sounds and acts exactly like an abused woman.
Except he gets less acceptance from his friends who care about him, who don’t want to see him ruin his life.
Like many women, Stu doesn’t listen to those wiser than he.
Years ago, when my father was still working, he told me about a young woman who worked in their office who came in with a black eye, and her co-workers asked her what happened.
She admitted her boyfriend hit her because she’d refused to smoke marijuana with him.
“You need to leave him,” my father said, in a position to know about such things. He told her about a relative who was in an abusive relationship and how she found it difficult to get out. How the partner showed no respect for her and hit her repeatedly. How it only gets worse, not better, no matter what he says afterward.
“Why do you stay with someone who treats you like that?” Dad asked the young woman. And he related the line I knew was coming next.
“It’s because I loooooooooooove him!”
I told my then-boyfriend my father’s story. He was a kind, decent Pagan guy, the sort who would no more hit a woman than he would shoot a dog.
He knew someone who’d been abused, and he couldn’t understand why she put up with it. He screwed up his face in disgust when he said it: “Because I loooooooooove him!”
Male or female, Dr. Stuart Price is what someone looks like when they’re abused. The difference is, I don’t know, maybe male friends are more likely to tell you in plain speaking you need to dump the abusive asshole.
There’s a bigger, more critical problem with female abuse victims. When they tolerate abusive partners, there may be putting their friends and family in danger.
Far more often for women than men, their abuse isn’t, strictly speaking, a private matter. Because Melissa, if Stuart leaves her, isn’t likely to stalk him or try to kill him. That’s a real possibility for women — in fact, the most common way by far women get murdered.
In a smaller number of cases, aggrieved dumped husbands and lovers will go after her family, and sometimes her friends.
Texas man shoots his ex and her family Brooklyn Dad shoots his daughter’s mother and her sisters Ohio guy kills his ex and her family, with help from his own Guy kills family to get to ex-wife he wants to kill, also with help from his family
It’s everyone’s business when a woman won’t leave an abusive man.
Here in Toronto, I used to work for a company where, prior to my joining, they were forced to shut down the office one afternoon because a crazy ex was coming to kill one of the administrative staff, and police warned he might show up at the office.
She put her entire office in danger because of him.
I wonder if her friends and family said much before he went off the deep end. My family didn’t, when our relative was in that situation. Neither were we in much danger, since we weren’t immediate family and we lived in another state. We hardly ever saw her because — well, you can guess.
Women are way too nice about abuse.
We tolerate it far too much, whether it’s happening to us or to others. I’d like to see us find a medium somewhere between Stu’s friends — who are too derisive and condescending — and the rest of us who STFU and assume it’s her business.
On perhaps some subconscious level, we acknowledge the dirty little secret about abuse: She’s letting it happen.
I’ve been the warning someone ignored. I used to work with a very pretty married young woman whose husband was hitting her. She left him. He did exactly what my mother warned me abusive men do when she leaves: He apologized profusely, made a date to take her out to dinner at a nice restaurant, and surprised her with a chauffeured limo and flowers. She came in the next morning like a young girl in love.
“He’s going to do it again,” I told her. I related my mother’s insight.
“Oh no, it’s going to be different now,” she said.
Photo by Julia Avamotive from Pexels I wonder how many more beatings it took before she left. Or if she ever did. I don’t know how it turned out as she left the company shortly after. I don’t know why.
She made the choice to listen to him. She was young and inexperienced and we didn’t know as much about abuse as we do now. Women had a lot less financial power then. She made a bad choice, perhaps an uninformed choice, but it was still a choice. Life is all about uninformed choices. We all do it every single day because we can’t look into the future and see how things will turn out. We can’t know what we don’t know.
She also made the choice to not listen to me, and possibly others, warning her this was a dangerous path to take. I hope her (I expect) ex didn’t go after her friends and family too. Or maybe she made too many choices to stay and then one day, she no longer had one.
She was a co-worker, not a friend, so I couldn’t say too much. I’ve never been in a position where I had someone in my own circle actively talking about domestic abuse. It might have been happening quietly, but I suspect it wasn’t happening much. The kind of woman who don’t question abuse, or even recognize it, aren’t the sort of people who become my friends. Probably we have little in common.
I wouldn’t want my phone number in the mobile of someone I know is being abused. I don’t want her crazy mofo to find it and decide I’m too good a friend or I was likely the fucking c—t who persuaded her to leave. I don’t want that sort of drama in my life.
If a friend confessed her partner was abusing her I wouldn’t turn my back on her, especially if I didn’t think he was the sort to take out a family barbecue in revenge, but I would be stronger in my language than many women would be.
I mean, we’ve been understanding and non-blamey and non-judgemental for like fifty fucking years and women are still getting assaulted, raped, beaten, put in the hospital, and often killed because they made a lot of really bad decisions all along the way.
And clearly, they don’t fucking listen when people do speak up.
We need to be less tolerant of abusive men overall, stronger with our language with friends and family and make it clear they have choice. And the longer they wait to choose to leave, the harder it’s going to be.
And maybe even, if they don’t fucking leave him, you don’t want anything more to do with this shitshow because you don’t need him coming after you.
Doing the same thing over and over is the definition of insanity, n’est-çe pas?
The Hangover’s Phil is an asshole — they all are — but I loved his reaction in the fancy Vegas suite when he told Stu in no uncertain terms what a big fucking mistake he was making. He removed a little of Stu’s future victimhood. He made it clear it was a choice and he stated the truth — Stu was in denial.
I don’t like the other ways they treated him — calling him Dr. Faggot, ‘correcting’ him in public for calling himself a doctor when he was ‘just a dentist’. But I get their impatience and disgust with him. Why didn’t he fucking listen to them?
Melissa needs Stu to call her as soon as he arrives somewhere, and one doesn’t get the impression she wants to make sure he’s safe. She gets really pissy if he doesn’t — like when his plane arrived late and he was the keynote speaker. She tells him she’ll kick his ass if he goes to a strip club, and she might mean it literally. We know she’s hit him already. He agrees with everything she says in a way suggesting he’s trying to keep the peace. He makes excuses for her sexual infidelity — She was wasted! And if you must know, he didn’t even come inside her! — and later she throws a loud expletive-laced tantrum at the wedding.
Stu is in an abusive relationship, and his friends are a lot less tolerant than female friends are.
We need to woman up. We need to hold ourselves, and others, to a higher standard than we have. It’s not 1988 anymore when my father told his story.
We have more economic, financial, and political will, not to mention more power. But do we have the willpower to truly put an end to abuse?
This first appeared on Medium in July 2021.