I've spoken on many occasions about how screenwriters or novelists… MoreI've spoken on many occasions about how screenwriters or novelists don't always make the best directors. As much as we bemoan a director's vision for a given film not gelling with that of the writer, when writers get behind a camera they often fail to grasp the difference between cinematic and literary storytelling. This is true of the cult classic Westworld, the would-be cult classic Sir Henry at Rawlinson End, and the coming-of-age drama The Perks of Being A Wallflower.
The Inbetweeners 2 sees Damon Beesley and Iain Morris, the creators of the TV series, stepping behind the camera for a film which bids farewell to the famous foursome. Just as the first film was an exception to the rule that all films based on British comedies are terrible, so this film is an exception to the rule that writers can't direct. While some of the comedy still doesn't belong, it is both an improvement on the first film and a fitting way to say goodbye.
The first big success of The Inbetweeners 2 is that it actually looks and feels like a film. This may seem an obvious point, but it's one that you can very rarely say about British comedy adaptations, both in the past and in recent times. While the production values of The Inbetweeners Movie were pretty decent, it still looked and felt like an extended TV episode. This is all-round more cinematic, with better compositions, a wider choice of angles and a glossier feel.
The explanation for this is not straightforward. Had Beesley and Morris jettisonned all the old crew upon taking the helm, it would be easy to put this transition down solely to their creative talents. But the film is shot by the same person as before (Ben Wheeler), edited by the same person (William Webb) and produced by the same person (Christopher Young, for Film4). Most if not all of the production team have done the bulk of their work in television rather than feature films.
The true explanation lies in a combination of creative freedom and an understanding of direction in terms of purpose. Directing a film is not just about making sure that all the constituent parts fit together in a workable order: it is about communicating a story, theme or idea with a clear and preferably unique voice. Not only do Beesley and Morris have more freedom following the success of the first film, but they have a clear idea of where they want to go, regardless of audience expectations.
The second big plus of The Inbetweeners 2 is that it adds depth and humanity to the characters. This is also one of the characteristics which make it feel more cinematic: we actually see the characters grow in a meaningful way (well, meaningful enough) over a long period of time. This is something that can be done on both film and TV but in different ways; while TV episodes can space out and break up character development, on film it has to be much more seamless, as it is here.
The difference between this film and its predecessor is a dominance of character over situation. The Inbetweeners Movie was essentially a genre exercise: it dropped these characters into overly familiar surroundings and sat back to see what would happen. This film may share some familiar characteristics of episodes, particularly in the Splash Mountain scenes, but this time the characters drive any given situation and the progression from one to the next feels a lot more natural.
Most of the boys have an emotional arc which we can follow through the film and which makes them more rounded and believable. Will's relationship with Katie sees him disown his friends, only to realise the emptiness of both his prep-school friendship with her and the lifestyle that she and Ben have chosen to inhabit. His tirades around the camp fires are right on the money, puncturing both the pretentiousness of spiritual tourism and the egos of the people who take part in it.
Simon's relationshipwith Lucy (who has become a complete yandere) sees him finally stick up for himself when it comes to relationships; even if it's resolved in a rather convenient manner, he at least goes through the process of deciding who he values and why. Jay, arguably the least likeable character at face value, is developed the most when we discover his capacity for both remorse and genuine love. His insecurity and regret regarding Jane is very welcome and is prevents the film from repeating itself. The only one short-changed in this department is Neil; while arguably he's already happier than all the other boys, he's ultimately reduced to out-of-context comic relief.
The third big plus of The Inbetweeners 2 is that it is funnier than its predecessor. It's still every bit a gross-out comedy which treads the fine line between edgy and offensive, but there's much less of a reliance on set-pieces, and what set-pieces there are are much more memorable. With the log flume incident, it's as though Beesley and Morris saw Caddyshack, got to the infamous pool scene, and thought: "how can we make this even funnier?".
Many of the funniest moments in the film will simultaneously make you howl with laughter and grimace in disgust. The scene involving Neil in the pub with the dog may feature unconvincing prostethics, but for the brief glance we get (which is all we'll ever need), it does its job. The same goes for Will's falsetto singging around the camp fire, the aforementioned log flume incident, and Simon getting urinated on by Neil in the Outback.
While these scenes are funny, some of the more sexual jokes are completely unnecessary. The scene where Simon is accused of being a paedophile is really uncomfortable; it's not attempting to say anything clever or expose any kind of absurd attitude, it's just plain gruesome and should have been cut. The same goes for the various mentions of rape which pop up over the running time. While the film holds back from out-and-out using sexual violence as a punchline, it seems content to use the word as a cheap laugh when it should be anything but.
There are other moments of the film which on deeper reflection don't make a lot of sense. The scene with the four boys holding hands in the Outback as they die of thirst is very touching, being somewhere between the existential loneliness of Walkabout and the incinerator sequence in Toy Story 3. But then you notice that the boys are avoiding their only source of shade, and leaning against a car which is roasting hot. It doesn't throw the film completely off-balance, but it's a niggle that lingers aftwards.
The Inbetweeners 2 is an improvement on its predecessor which merits its existence as a means of deepening the characters. Beesley and Morris both write and direct well, with better jokes (by and large) and a greater focus on the characters rather than the situations in which they find themselves. Just like its predecessor, it's not without its problems, but if this is the last we see of Simon, Will, Neil and Jay, then it's a fitting way to finish.
Whenever a beloved TV series makes it to the big screen, it's a… MoreWhenever a beloved TV series makes it to the big screen, it's a reasonable assumption that the plot will involve the characters going on holiday. This has become the default model for British comedy adaptations, whose characters have outgrown the environments which originally made them famous. The results are almost universally dire, with tired fish-out-of-water gags, rehashing of old routines and much-loved character traits being altered to appease an international audience.
After three successful series on Channel 4 and a smattering of awards, The Inbetweeners now takes its place in the British-comedy-goes-on-holiday pantheon. But while it retreads many of the done-to-death beats of this tired little sub-genre, The Inbetweeners Movie comes off a lot better than most. It's not an unmitigated success by anyone's standards, but it will raise quite a few laughs.
To pass muster, a film adaptation of a TV series must pull off two different tricks. Firstly, it must transition from televisual storytelling to something more cinematic, giving us a storyline and situations which aren't bound by the episodic rubric of the small screen. And secondly, it must provide a smooth transition from the ending of the TV series to this new scenario. This applies regardless of whether the film is intended as a direct sequel to a given series, or as a retelling of the same material in a different way, as David Lynch attempted with Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.
In the first instance, The Inbetweeners Movie achieves a partial pass. The plot is structured very much like the trip-themed episodes, having a very similar opening act to 'Thorpe Park' or 'Caravan Club' from the first series. It's not hard to imagine that the party montages are what would have resulted had the series enjoyed a slightly bigger budget. Director Ben Palmer also helmed the second and third series, so a certain amount of visual continuity is no surprise.
While the film is structured like an episode, however, there is enough material in there to see us through the running time. The film doesn't fall into the trap of many adaptations from TV or the stage, namely needlessly increasing the number of locations to give the feeling of a bigger world for the characters. While there are more locations, they are used sparingly and the jokes that take place in them more often than not hit their mark.
As a transition from the TV series (the second trick I mentioned), The Inbetweeners again partially succeeds. Many of the characteristics of the TV series are retained: school scenes are kept to a minimum, much of the plot revolves around alcohol and women, and a lot of it is in pretty bad taste. But Palmer and the writers do make enough accomodations to make the characters feel like film characters. Simon's relationship with Carly is given the space it needs to play out, while in the series it was often relegated to a sub-plot.
Despite the series being very much a 21st-century product, The Inbetweeners Movie has a curiously 1990s vibe to it. Some of the clubbing scenes are shot and structured like several similar scenes from Kevin and Perry Go Large, the spin-off from Harry Enfield & Chums featuring Enfield and Kathy Burke. Both films share a welcome sense of irony, never falling into the trap of celebrating the more troubling, chauvinistic aspects of lad culture.
When I reviewed National Lampoon's Animal House, I said that it was very difficult to review any kind of gross-out comedy without simply listing all its jokes and telling people that it was funny. The Inbetweeners Movie has no shame in playing to the American Pie crowd, with jokes about vomit, faeces and genitals a-plenty. Sometimes the jokes are so telegraphed that they're simply too obvious to be funny - the nasty item in the bidet being the best example. But these are the exception rather than the rule, and Palmer edits the film to leave many of the best jokes to our imagination.
Unlike Animal House, however, there is no real subtext to The Inbetweeners Movie which you could draw out to justify it to those who find its humour puerile and adolescent. While John Landis' film could be viewed as some kind of counter-cultural statement, with one foot in the Kennedy era and the other in the late-1970s, Palmer's is content to be about four boys getting into scrapes. But not every good comedy needs subtext, and Animal House's political points do not excuse some of its more misjudged moments.
Part of the reason that The Inbetweeners Movie works as well as it does is that it is always making the effort to distance itself from the tone or tropes that its surroundings would naturally afford. The show has always gone the extra mile to use its characters' capacity to offend in order to send up people who are like that in real life. There is no scene in the film which glamourises Jay's atrocious attitude to women, and for all the heavy drinking the boys' world is hardly an unmitigated paradise.
This realisation allows the humour of the film to raise above most of its overly conventional features. We still get the stereotypical scenes of young men getting drunk and failing miserably with the ladies, but Neil's dancing puts a nice little twist on things. The nudity is predictable but tasteful towards both the male and female characters; while the women don't have much to do plot-wise, they are not as purely objectified as they would be in a Michael Bay film. A good chunk of the humour is character-driven, with Will's awkwardness about the girl the fancies producing a lot of well-handled confusion.
That being said, there are aspects of the film which fall short, and as with Animal House these can be divided into structural issues and taste issues. Structually, the film begins to run out of steam as soon as the boat party happens. While a lot of the character dynamics are resolved, it all feels a little too neat, and then the film fails to provide a satisfying ending - even with the post-credit sequence involving Mr. Gilbert.
The taste issues arise when the film risks tipping over from its relatively intelligent vantage point into something more seedy. There's no point being a prude about a film like this, and purely from a gross-out standpoint it does what it says on the tin. But the alpha male character James is over-egged to the point where he becomes creepy, and the scenes with the child at the pool are rather uncomfortable.
The Inbetweeners Movie partially succeeds where many British comedy adaptations fail, making it to the big screen reasonably intact and passing the crucial test of making us laugh. Structurally it's still very much an extended TV episode, and there are moments which are either uncomfortable or just unfunny. But the film gives room for the characters to grow enough to retain our interest for an hour-and-a-half. The TV series remains superior, but this is funny enough to justify at least one viewing.