Having not seen a single episode of the British sitcom The Inbetweeners – for that matter, having not heard of it until just a few weeks ago – you’d think I’d have been ill prepared to watch and review the feature-length film adaptation. I thought so myself; I assumed that I’d be lost trying to make sense of characters established and developed over the course of eighteen TV episodes, that the film would exist primarily as an in-joke for those already intimately familiar with the material. To my great surprise, I found that this was not the case. I understood the characters (to the extent that horny and socially awkward teenage boys can be understood) and the plot was easy to follow. Here is an adaptation that isn’t dependent on its source, that can stand on its own and still be accessible to those not in the know.
I was also surprised by the fact that I found it oddly endearing and, at times, very funny. It does occasionally go too far; there’s nothing innately humorous in the sight of a dead dog being pulled from a well or of human excrement lying in a bidet, and it’s hard for someone like me to laugh at an older woman being manually stimulated in the middle of a barroom dance floor. But if you can get past some of the disgusting imagery, you may find that there’s something more at work than a raunchy teen comedy. It’s a classic coming of age movie, telling the story of four recently graduated comprehensive schoolers (high schoolers to us Yanks) who think they’re on a sexual conquest but are in fact walking a more mature path towards actual relationships. I grant you that it’s a long, winding, incredibly bumpy path; after all, they still have to get through college and the pain of choosing and maintaining a career.
The title characters are Will (Simon Bird), Jay (James Buckley), Neil (Blake Harrison), and Simon (Joe Thomas), a group of foulmouthed, sex obsessed friends from London who are obviously not the sharpest tools in the shed. Their quick introductions, which are intended to be as embarrassing as possible, establish behaviors and scenarios that will make up the rest of the film. Will, who doubles as the narrator, learns that his sarcastic and disapproving father has just married a much younger woman. Jay is first seen masturbating with cold cuts while wearing a snorkel and goggles; he has just learned that his grandfather has died. Simon is dumped by his girlfriend, Carli (Emily Head), who claims that a long-distance relationship in college wouldn’t work. And Neil … well, he’s just Neil, slower to understand, quickest with the ladies, and is undoubtedly the happiest of the four.
The plot involves the misadventures they share while on vacation in Malia, Greece, which involves getting booked into a dump of a hotel, Simon giving away his clothes (including what he’s wearing) while under the impression he’s actually selling them, and Jay getting his bathing suit pulled down by a cheeky Greek boy. Will, Jay, and Neil have no great ambition other than to meet women, have sex, and get thoroughly drunk. Simon, on the other hand, is on a relentless mission to win back Carli – who, as it so happens, is also vacationing in Malia. When he learns she will be attending a boat party, he does whatever he can to try and get a ticket. Meanwhile, there will be a lot of in-fighting, swearing, and rude behavior. An example of the latter: Simon will use sunscreen to draw a penis on Will’s back, which will later show up through his tan.
Along the way, they will meet four young woman, also on vacation from the U.K. Being who they are, you just know that boys will make every situation as awkward as it can be. Nevertheless, they each find a girl with whom they have a rapport. There’s Alison (Laura Haddock), who has a Greek boyfriend and yet is charmed by Will’s sexual inexperience and droll conversational style. Jay, who talks plenty big about sex but obviously knows nothing about it, meets Jane (Lydia Rose Bewley), who’s overweight yet confident; although the two get along nicely, Jay is too dense to realize what a perfect match she is for him. Neil, who goes overboard with tanning spray and spends most of the film with an orange face, meets Lisa (Jessica Knappett) as well as several much older women. He has a girlfriend back home, but as long as he doesn’t kiss any of these women, his explicit sexual activity is justified.
As for Simon, he has become so annoyingly one-tracked in his pursuit of Carli that he fails to notice three things: (1) That a sweet, pleasant young woman named Lucy (Tamla Kari) has feelings for him; (2) that he’s hurting Lucy’s feelings by talking about Carli nonstop; (3) that Carli isn’t the girl he thinks she is. Admittedly, this subplot is routine material for a coming of age movie. But at least it raises The Inbetweeners several levels above a typical raunchy teen comedy, in which anything even remotely compelling is pushed aside in favor of pointless, unending juvenile gags. The same can be said for the other subplots, especially Will’s. This is a surprisingly engaging movie – highly crude, yet not without a sense of humor and several flashes of human insight.
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Wrekin Hill Entertainment