Saturday, February 22, 2014

Review: The Inbetweeners Movie

As part of my so-called "Movie Diet" (see here for a fuller explanation), I have vowed to review all new films I see between now and April 27th.

When it's your wife's birthday, and she says she wants to watch a movie based on a British TV show that she's been watching but you haven't, you watch it, right?

I knew nothing more than that about either The Inbetweeners or The Inbetweeners Movie when we cued it up on Wednesday night. As it turns out, England churns out funny teenagers as well as funny adults -- not that any of the main foursome were under age 25 when this 2011 movie was made.

That main foursome is a group of recent high school grads in England, looking for a holiday on the island of Crete as a way of celebrating before going their separate ways in the world. (Okay, they're not just appreciating each others' company -- they're so fixated on one particular goal, that they've even gotten shirts made up describing themselves as the Pussay Patrol.) Will (Simon Bird) is the main character and narrator, a bespectacled intellectual who's clever with words, but often not in a socially productive way. Simon (Joe Thomas) has just been told by his girlfriend that she wants to be free to explore relationships at university, so has taken the trip to get his mind off her. Neil (Blake Harrison) is a lanky, happy-go-lucky goofball who has a loving girlfriend back home. And Jay (James Buckley) is the least mature, most purpose-driven of the partiers, and also the creator of the Pussay Patrol t-shirts, who wants only to get laid and to get drunk beyond recognition.

They've booked an awful hotel that looks like it belongs in some Eastern European war zone, but the good news is that the party still isn't too far from their doorstep, and it's all it was cracked up to be. Our four quickly connect up with another foursome of British girls (darn near everyone on the island seems to be British), though the relationship is at first as much oil to water as bee to honey. Closest to a real love connection may be Simon, who can't stop whining about his ex -- a problem made all the more complicated by the fact that she's vacationing in Crete as well. 

The movie was surely made for people who already knew/appreciated the show, so it opens with a bit of a short-handed approach to introducing the characters. As such, some of the early jokes really fall flat, dependent as they are on a prior knowledge of the characters and their proclivities.

Just when I started to wonder whether I'd spend the whole movie feeling like I'd wandered into the wrong classroom, though, I started to get a sense of these characters that was separate from what had been established about them on the TV show. It's probably no coincidence that this is about when the guys start finding the party in Crete. You might say that I started loosening up when they did. In fact, the moment that really won me over is when they attempt to follow one guy's advice that they shouldn't just go up to the group of girls to introduce themselves, but rather dance over and gesture for the girls to join them. As the joint is otherwise deserted -- they've been snookered into paying the cover charge by an attractive PR girl outside -- they cut across an empty dance floor, each doing their own bizarre jig that bears no relationship to what the others are doing. There's real deft physical comedy here, which shows both that these actors have worked together successfully before, and are having a lot of fun.

The Inbetweeners Movie never fully feels like something other than a long version of a TV show, even being shot on location in Crete. Decades ago, The Brady Bunch was able to go on vacation in Hawaii, so shooting on location in an exotic locale isn't something itself that exceeds the limitations of television. But where the movie shines is that it creates a comfort around the characters that you would get while living with them over the course of three seasons (British shows always have shorter runs). Someone who isn't familiar with the show, such as myself, is probably in a better position to judge that than the people for whom this movie was actually made.

What's more, you get the sense this could easily be something that will show what these actors were up to back at the beginning, once they've joined the ranks of British funnymen who have gone before them to successful movie careers. Let's just try to forget that in their late 20s now, they might already be more firmly on that path, and instead think of them as the high schoolers they play in The Inbetweeners, ready to take on the comedy world.

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