Hapless teenagers Will, Simon, Jay and Neil have completed their last day of year 12 public school and haven’t thought more than a day ahead about where their lives are going. And it’s small wonder; they’re nursing far bigger problems. Lovelorn and hair gel-coiffed Simon (Joe Thomas) has just been dumped by childhood sweetheart Carli; Neil (Blake Harrison) is booked up serving deli meats at the grocer where he startles customers by publicly and enthusiastically snogging his girlfriend; Jay (James Buckley) is hell bent on preserving his reputation as a heartbreaking womaniser and sexpert formidable; and posh protagonist Will (the charming Simon Bird) is seeking out a fresh start in his adult life, as a person hopefully considered normal and most importantly, not a virgin. Naturally, a cure-all leavers’ trip to Grecian resort city Malia is planned, and the gang head off with their pockets full of their parents’ cash and literally nothing in mind above boning and boozing.
Anybody familiar with the TV series that gave birth to The Inbetweeners Movie will expect this teen flick to be as gross and coarse as any episode and then some. In that end, it doesn’t disappoint, however it doesn’t add much depth or intrigue to the perpetually squabbling characters we’ve come to well, pity, from the series. The film lacks much of the intimacy of the series as it flings itself toward ever more ludicrous plot twists, and its script struggles to make the upgrade from TV to feature, meandering through what end up being episode-like chapters.
“The Inbetweeners” title refers to the passage from boyhood to manhood, but perhaps more accurately, from wanting or thinking you know about life, to actually knowing about it. This is a path marked by incorrect tips and poor guidance given out in whispers through toilet stall doors from peers with little clue. Gems such as ‘girls love it when you’re drunk’ or ‘that bidet is just a kids’ toilet’ are harkened to with disastrous effect. Part of the hilarity of this movie is just how wrong and useless all of this teenage advice and rumour can be. It’s nice to see that despite the sex-advice industry being a million-dollar operation (Dolly, FHM, Cosmopolitan are classic culprits), we have here a film that dispels any notion that you can learn something important from bike-shed gossip.
Where there are four ogling teenage pals, there must surely be four good-looking young ladies for them to shame themselves in front of. Alison, Lucy, Lisa and Jane are clearly all written to be complimentary to the foibles of the boys. Alison (Laura Haddock) helps boost Will’s confidence; Lucy (Tamla Kari, a mini Gemma Arterton) helps Simon to stop chasing unattainable dreams; Lisa (Jessica Knappet) is as identically stupid and mad on the ‘dougie’ as Neil is; and overweight Jane (Lydia Rose Bewley) teaches Jay to respect women of all shapes and sizes. None of them are particularly engaging or funny in and of themselves, but the boys’ improving rapport with them makes up the only real trajectory the film has, landing squarely and unsurprisingly in a neat quadruple coupling. How nice.
The Inbetweeners Movie is primarily a gross-out film, in which all graces are abandoned and bodily fluids let loose. This is where most of the obvious humour-cum-wincing is derived from and it’s always been a major part of the series. This isn’t too surprising – being a teenager is perhaps the most visceral time in a person’s life, as one comes to grips with having a body that has desires and limits and fluids and is perhaps not shaped quite like everyone else’s. The corporeality of youth is pushed to the fore here and one can’t help but feel this is a necessary component any feature that describes the horror and confusion of late puberty.
Director Ben Palmer is clever with these abject scenes, at first allowing the audience to imply and imagine certain indecorous things happening off camera, but then unexpectedly, locking the lens onto the purple cock of a club stripper or an unflushed shit. Audiences will react with genuine surprise at how far the envelope gets pushed here. Of course, this kind of thing is likely to shock or disgust those who don’t recognise it’s just a vehicle to startle a guffaw out of viewers. It’s quite an empty feature of the film, and one has to wonder how James Buckley (who plays Jay) came to decide baring his nob in his first ever feature was a wise career move. I doubt it will attract the same critical analysis as when Jennifer Connelly or Natalie Portman did nude scenes.
Malia is portrayed as a swarming whirlpool of fishbowl-fuelled hedonism in which vendors of tanning lotion, Fluro bikinis and novelty oversized sunglasses seem to be really pushing units. Imagine the royal show populated exclusively by drunk schoolies. Despite the youth and vitality of the hundreds of teens there and the pricey beachside lifestyle, it seems a vastly tacky place in which no local culture is experienced, let alone sought out. This is a pretty bleak reflection on Western partying habits, especially as binge drinking and finding a one-night stand having become fundamental components of a night out for a large group of young people, and often live music or entertainment doesn’t even factor in. This might at first look like the perfect arena for a parent-free tale of debauchery, but if you’re going to do a trip movie, why completely ignore the country you’re travelling to? Well, surely that’s the sole purpose of Malia – a kind of culture-neutral 18-25’s-only über bar. I may as well scratch it off my world globe now.
There’s little to be said for the Inbetweeners script. Like the show, it sensitively picks up on all the insensitivities of teen dialogue. This gets repetitive over the two hours, and there’s a heavy dependence on quick gags to string one scene to the next. Apart from this closely choreographed comedy, what you are essentially listening to is the drivel and smut that comes pouring out of the mouths of young men who have no idea what they are talking about but have on hand a hundred filthy words to describe it. This includes more words for vagina than I’ve ever heard before, including the inexplicable ‘clunge’, which The Inbetweeners may as well go ahead and trademark, it’s used so much.
I can’t help wondering what the difference is between The Inbetweeners and American college movies about randy cashed-up teenagers like American Pie or Road Trip. To me, The Inbetweeners is much funnier and seems far more authentic. Not only are the actors the right age (rather than in their mid-twenties), genuinely gawky, lanky, spotty and pallid (rather than hot but with glasses on), but they seem to be genuinely capable of feeling pain. The best thing about the Inbetweeners franchise and part of the reason it has been so popular is its unreserved deployment of humiliation. With absolutely no idea about how to talk to girls, diffuse scuffles, handle money or avoid trouble, the “Pussay Patrol” undergoes a constant barrage of shaming incidents. Unlike a lot of feature films, writers Iain Morris and Damon Beesley appear to have created three-dimensional, endearing characters in Will, Jay, Neil and Simon before any plot was conceived. The relish with which they’ve then forced the boy heroes into tricky situations is palpable, and the resulting shame is expressed really well by Simon Bird and James Buckley especially.
I’ve no doubt billing posters will tag The Inbetweeners Movie as a carefree, Coke-advert-style Summer adventure film, but frankly, the tagline “the rudest thing you will see all Summer” is probably more appropriate. To be clear, I did enjoy The Inbetweeners Movie. Who doesn’t get a laugh out of seeing a 17-year-old weep as he waves off his girlfriend at the airport? Nonetheless, The Inbetweeners Movie is still a unique example of a film about being a teenager that is sincere enough to compel audience sympathy, and also vulgar enough for teenage boys to want to see it. No doubt it will attract many a Jay, Will, Simon or Neil doppelganger. Yet The Inbetweeners Movie will no doubt wind up being described by its rudest moments. A quick list will suffice: “The Inbetweeners: Two dicks, a shit and plenty of vomit”.