Made In Britain: The Inbetweeners Movie
It occurred to me the other day that I haven’t actually reviewed that much British Comedy in this series. There’s a reason for that: it’s usually shit. Furthermore, we don’t seem to actually make as much comedy as we do Horror or kitchen sink Misery Porn. Anyhoo, I’ve got a few in the works, and this is the first: The Inbetweeners Movie.
Contains social ineptness and spoilers below
Billed as “The British American Pie” The Inbetweeners was a mildly amusing Channel 4 sitcom that made unlikely stars out of the four main leads. Considering that American Pie is basically Porky’s minus the anti-semitism rantings, this does suggest that there’s nothing especially original here. Where The Inbetweeners was clever, though, is that we’re very good at embarrassment comedy, and so the series was at its most effective when mining the deep seam of humiliation that any nerdy teenage boy would face. Particularly around members of the opposite sex. Anyhow, in 2011, Channel 4 made a feature length version, and it was phenomenally successful in Britain and Europe, coining in over £45m. Now, Film4 have managed to secure a limited cinema release in the states, and I do wonder how America will take it.
In all honesty, it should do alright. This is basically a coming of age story dealing with 4 socially backward idiots getting up to all sorts of silly shenanigans in Malia between School and University. Incidentally, while nowhere near as socially inept as the 4 fumbletrumpets here, this is almost a rite of passage for British teens, the only difference is which Greek Island gets the dubious pleasure of hosting it. In my case, it was also Crete, but this was back when the Belearic Islands were the destination of choice. The rules of the holiday are simple: get some sun, drink as much as you can and if at all possible shag some loose-moralled girl from one of Britain’s Northern urban shitpits while she is full of inhibition destroying cocktails. All fun and games.
The film opens with a quick introduction from Will (Simon Bird), he’s the most uptight and anally retentive nerd in the history of British comedy and couldn’t pull in a bell ringing convention. His life is one long trauma at the hands of his peer group, and a merry-go-round of perpetual humiliation due to his utter incompetence with the opposite sex. Hilariously, during his voice-over, he points out that as his parents only divorced two years ago he can’t even blame his “obvious personality problems” on them. His mates are Jay (James Buckley) the perverted character who is introduced wearing a diving mask, snorkel and oven glove indulging in some furious internet assisted masturbation; Simon, (Joe Thomas) all round wet blanket, pining because he’s been dumped by Carli (Emily Head); and Neil (Blake Harrison) who gives morons a bad name. Seriously, he’s some kind of barely-sentient form of ambulatory moss.
The remainder of the film follows their disastrous holiday in Crete. Firstly, the hotel is a shitpit, then Simon discovers that Neil booked the same destination as Carli, the boys humiliate themselves repeatedly, meet some astonishingly accommodating women (Alison played by Laura Haddock is the most important) who seem to be able to look past the boys’ personality failings (which, let’s face it, are serious) to see the good within them, and are bullied by Carli’s new boyfriend, the overly obnoxious James (Theo James), who is everything that they aren’t being good looking, smooth, physically fit, and so forth.
This isn’t a bad film, to be honest, however it is unable to transcend its sitcom roots. It feels episodic, and the film lurches from one mini-crisis to the next. All the expected tropes are here, with them falling out, making up, and eventually finding true love against all obstacles, with Will’s arch voiceover narrating the cock-ups as they come. As a result, it’s very patchy with some jokes (Jay falling asleep in the ants’ nest) far more effective than others. It is, however, not a cruel movie, and I do have to make clear that our unlikely group of morons do “win” in the end against all the odds.
The acting here is good. The actors have been playing these parts for years, and you can tell. In particular Bird and Buckley have brilliant delivery that lifts even mildly amusing pieces of dialogue considerably. On a script level, it isn’t as sharp as the series, but there are still some brilliant moments such as Will’s depressed “So smelling like an industrial accident in a Lynx factory and looking like the world’s shittest boyband, we hit the town.” Not to mention Jay’s perpetual filthy optimism providing gems like “This girl’s so wet for me I can hear the waves breaking in her fanny.”
Where The Inbetweeners is at its most effective is in the exchanges between the four lads. There’s a feel of verisimilitude to them, and the film sticks ardently to the rule that no matter how bad things are, you can always rely on your mates to make them worse. Case in point is Jay’s helpful advice to Simon to help him get over Carli: every time he mentions her, he earns a slap in the balls. The leads play the exchanges between the four lads perfectly, there’s an easy back-and-forth banter and on occasion the script delivers some genuinely funny lines for the boys. Jay has most of them, with his lewd persona and frankly filthy mouth spitting out some of the most creative obscenities that I’ve heard in a long time.
However, where the film fails, and it does fail hard on more than one occasion, is when it delves into the bowels of embarrassment comedy. In particular, Will’s annoying and unfunny obsession with keeping order and following signs leads to one mortifying and painfully obnoxious scene with an angry family and a disabled child that should never have left script development. Furthermore, the exchanges with the girls (who are all good, to be fair) stretch credibility, particularly Alison’s broken-heart over her holiday fling gone wrong.
Painting a fairly accurate portrait of a typical 18-30 sun, sex and sangria holiday, the Inbetweeners has that most intangible of assets: a bit of heart. While minor characters pop up and irritate with alarming frequency (invariably adding nothing to the film), the film never allows its depiction of the boys to become cruel. Yes, Jay is a dirty little cunt, Neil is a prize-winning moron, while Simon is an utter drip, and the rod up Will’s arse has a rod up its arse, but the film doesn’t go out of its way to humiliate them at every turn. If anything, Simon’s troubles with Lucy (Tamla Kari) are almost entirely self-inflicted but at least he has the self-awareness to realise that he’s been a “bit of a cock” to her, and the psuedo-montage over the closing credits show that our boys come back from Malia “full of win” and it feels almost heartwarming.
Overall, the Inbetweeners is a heavily flawed movie, but when it works it is a likable and enjoyable time. When it plays to its strengths it works a treat, but the patchy and frankly episodic nature of the film does, on more than one occasion, drag it down. Nevertheless, I mildly enjoyed it, and I’ve seen much worse in the way of comedy in the last few years, so I’m going with a “meh”, and I only ask that Channel 4 now allow it to die as this final rite of passage is a fitting sign-off for the four misfits. No chance, though, so expect The Inbetweeners: The Uni years coming next year.
Next up is Dredd (I AM THE LAW) which had better not suck.