I had never seen The Inbetweeners before the movie, because a girl I was once chatting up told me I reminded her of Simon Bird. My delusion-based ego couldn’t handle the confirmation that he played the gawky, socially inept dork that I suspected he did.
So Simon Bird plays Will, a gawky, socially inept dork who is convinced to go on a booze-sodden holiday with his friends as a last adventure before going their separate ways after leaving school. It’s a pretty standard teen comedy plot, with an ominous precedent for UK viewers in the shape of Kevin & Perry Go Large, an expansion of a popular sketch show character into movie form which didn’t go at all well. Inbetweeners, though, has the benefit of going in with fully formed characters, friendships and comic rhythms, which make for a much more satisfying experience that is neither alienating to newcomers (as I was) nor overfamiliar for the program’s devoted audience. Having since watched a few episodes, while the movie doesn’t have any laughs on a par with a fish being punched to death or the infamous bus stop incident, it marks an amusing and amiable end to a much-loved series, even if it doesn’t do much beyond that.
The boys head off to Malia, intent on getting as hammered as the human body can handle and wellie-deep in clunge. As is the usual form for teen comedies, things don’t quite go to plan: the hotel doesn’t look anything like it did on the internet and has fines already in place for the most appalling of circumstances, whilst hopes of a non-stop sex marathon are curtailed by a less than inspired nightclub selection.
The movie works best when aiming to do nothing more than show four friends dragging themselves through a particularly messy holiday. Not blessed with much in the way of charm or brains, the boys plough on through the most arduous situations with the knowledge there will always be three fellow goons waiting for them on the other side, with at least one of them likely to humiliate themselves in a sufficiently extravagant way to take the heat off his equally shamed friends for a while.
Having done three seasons of television together, lead actors Simon Bird, James Buckley, Blake Harrison and Joe Thomas know the characters and each other’s quirks well enough to make the most out of every line of banter or piece of physical comedy. When they are paired off, the combinations are already established well enough that getting the most from each comes naturally: Simon the vaguely intellectual social outcast with the dim-witted but perpetually delighted Neil; relentlessly horny Jay with the (slightly) more romantic Simon. Fans of the series will know what to expect, with the move beyond England’s shores providing enough of a twist to keep the material relatively fresh.
The girls to whom they eventually gravitate manage to hold their own against the practiced male ensemble. Emily Head as Carli is the only returning female cast member, but oddly enough proves the least interesting of the bunch. Her characterisation is rooted in the manipulative ex-girlfriend trope, and having Simon lusting after her for much of the movie, when there’s a much nicer girl (played by Tamla Kari) waiting for him to make his move, quickly gets tiresome. Jessica Knappett plays what can only be described as a female Neil, lanky and slightly hopeless but ever so charming with it, and the pair have a great deal of fun exacerbating their similarities. Lydia Rose Bewley’s Jane gets a mildly irritating pairing based around Jay learning a Valuable Lesson about not (only) judging girls by their outward appearance, but defines her character’s strengths and insecurities affably enough that you’re rooting for her to get her lad by the end.
It’s Laura Haddock who has the plum role as Alison, though, playing the kind of sarcastic-but-sweet dream crush that only exists in teen movies. Even though the writing requires the character to take a few decisions which either seem too contrived by the plot or beneath a girl of her intelligence, she nails the humour and heart while somehow keeping it convincing that a girl like her could be charmed by someone so ridiculous as Will. (Hooray, I suppose). Her savviness is a natural fit for Will’s all-encompassing ineptitude when it comes to anything sex-related, making it a suitably endearing pair for the movie to put at the forefront of its story.
Despite its outstanding performers, it’s a shame the movie struggles to establish a consistent comedic flow. There are certainly some big laughs – the mating dance in the nightclub, Will’s first ‘flirtation’ with Alison and everything by the swimming pool, to name a few – but they feel disappointingly isolated, interrupted by chunks of story and relationship ‘drama’ that aren’t as much fun as they need to be. Will’s voiceover might work as a way to keep things moving on TV, but on film it’s an overused device that is annoying from the start and tends to either state the obvious or fall back on tired jokes. There’s plenty for anyone who has seen Brits abroad (or ever been one) to recognise with a cringe, but too much is left hanging: the villain is sufficiently nasty but never receives appropriate comeuppance, while the trying-too-hard loser who occasionally attempts to integrate himself into the group feels like a joke that should be building to something, but doesn’t. There’s also the fascination with full-frontal male nudity, odd both because the target audience is presumably teenage males, and also because considerably more restraint is exercised when it comes to the girls.
Though director Ben Palmer makes an effort to give the movie a cinematic flair, with a sweeping tracking shot early on that seems to have been taking notes from Touch Of Evil, it’s tough to shake the feeling that the story would have worked a lot better as a three-part television special, where the slightly isolated big laughs and wobbly plot wouldn’t have been so pronounced. It’s even easy to imagine where the dividing lines could go. Nevertheless, Inbetweeners is a funny and charming comedy that gives an appropriately filthy send-off to the series’ beloved characters and doesn’t let down what has been a pretty solid year for English cinema. A shame, then, that in the transition from television to cinema, it is let down by getting stuck somewhere in between.
ADDENDUM: And to the girl-who-shall-not-be-named (because I’ve forgotten), you might have thought me a Will-esque dork at the time, but look where I am now: writing movie reviews on the internet.