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Posts Tagged ‘Simon Bird’

Ladies and gentlemen, friends and neighbours, boys and girls, how can I put this? Easily enough I suppose: The Inbetweeners 2 is appalling. Not in the sense that it is in any way shoddily made or poorly performed, but simply because the level of the humour should by rights be utterly repugnant to any reasonable civilised person. The movie’s first really big laugh concerns a man in a skirt having his genitalia licked by a dog, and the directors spare you very little of the detail. Then again, I’m not sure how much of this should come as a surprise.

Inbetweeners_2_Movie_Poster

The first Inbetweeners movie surprised everyone by outperforming major Hollywood blockbusters and recouping its budget twentyfold on its release in 2011, so a sequel was always on the cards, I suppose. One does get a sense that all the key people involved were having a contest to see who could make the most outrageous demands as part of their deal for this follow-up: the leading quartet have all been bumped up to Associate Producer status, while writers Damon Beesley and Iain Morris have received the opportunity to direct this time around. I was rather dubious about the prospects of the new movie: there haven’t been any new episodes of the TV show it’s based on for a number of years, and, well, we’ve surely all grown up a bit, haven’t we? Well, apparently not, given it had the biggest opening weekend in the UK of any film this year. Hmm.

Six months have passed for our heroes since the last film, and what little maturity and character-development they received there seems not to have taken. Will (Simon Bird) is still unpopular and delusional, accident-prone Si (Joe Thomas) still has zero control of his own love-life, Jay (James Buckley) is still a pathological liar and borderline sex pest, and the only marginally-sentient Neil (Blake Harrison) is still intellectually challenged to the point where he is deeply confused by double-barrelled surnames.

Feeling unhappy with their lot in the UK, Will, Simon, and Neil decide to go and visit Jay, who is on a working holiday in Australia. To the surprise of no-one, Jay’s descriptions of his circumstances and lifestyle turn out to have been wildly exaggerated: rather than having it large as a top DJ and living in a mansion, Jay is actually working as a toilet attendant and living in a tent on his uncle’s lawn. However, they resolve not to let this spoil the trip, and a chance encounter with a girl Will used to know (Emily Berrington) leads to the suggestion that the quartet hit the backpacking trail! Provided the backpacking trail goes close to a water park, anyway…

Whatever else one might say about the first Inbetweeners film, you’d have to be a real curmudgeon to deny the fact that it did contain some of the funniest moments on the big screen that year. And same is also true of the new one. There are, once again, moments which left me breathless and aching with laughter: Simon Bird’s extraordinary falsetto rendition of The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face in a desperate attempt to impress a girl is just funny, funny, funny, in a way which is very hard to put into words. And there is clearly some intelligence at work in the script, as well – on the face of it, a leading quartet composed of a pseud, an idiot, a misogynist and a moron might present some problems when it comes to generating audience sympathy, and one of the ways this is circumvented is by setting the four in opposition to a bunch of other characters who are arguably even worse: a gaggle of self-regarding ‘travellers’.

And yet, and yet… I don’t know, this time round the bar seems to have been raised when it comes to the big moments of gross-out comedy. The first film felt pretty extreme, but there are numerous moments in this one which are absolutely vile. Human urine is about the least objectionable of the bodily substances which are central to much of the comedy – I admit that I was laughing, sort of, but I was also groaning and covering my eyes as well. Perhaps this is just a question of personal taste, but I was genuinely repelled, a bit. There are some brilliantly written and performed (relatively) clean scenes in this film – Will’s tirade against pretentious trustafarian travellers deserves to be enscribed in marble and erected outside every airport in south Asia – so it didn’t feel to me as if the extreme stuff was really required. And it is extreme: often too extreme to be really credible, which for me was also a problem.

I suppose I should also mention the casual and ‘ironic’ misogyny scattered throughout the film. Most of this comes from Jay, who is intended to be a pathetic character, but I got the distinct impression that someone was trying to have their cake and eat it. We get a vivid glimpse of Jay’s peculiar fantasy life early in the film, which no doubt is intended ironically, but I’m not sure it’s possible to fill the screen with attractive naked women in an ironic way. The girls in the movie are by no means treated as scathingly as the boys, but they remain secondary characters, and are either objects of desire or psychopathic harpies. Some deeply dodgy racial stereotyping puts in an appearance before the end of the closing credits, too.

In the end, I really don’t know how much of this stuff was included because it’s genuinely what the writer-directors thought was funny, and how much it’s an attempt to meet audience expectations by out-grossing the first film, but by the end of the film it was starting to feel forced, and that was a problem. The film is still funny, provided you can take the filth, but on the whole I found it less satisfying than the original, for all that the leads are still on winning form (even if Greg Davies is only in one scene).

We are promised (again) that The Inbetweeners 2 is the definitely final chapter in the series, no matter how well it performs. The massive box-office of this film makes me a little bit dubious about whether that will prove to be true, but I hope so. Quite apart from the fact that the cast are starting to look slightly ridiculous pretending to be 18-year-olds (Simon Bird is now in his thirties), it’s hard to see where they can go next without engaging in displays of contrived degeneracy on such a spectacular scale as to make the film almost totally unwatchable. It would be a shame for what was once one of the freshest and funniest comedy series in Britain to collapse into weary self-parody. For pity’s sake, enough.

 

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The study of cinema is not an exact science, but if we were to view the great mass of films as though they were the living things of planet Earth, it offers interesting scope for comparisons (obviously, or I wouldn’t be doing it). Much as we have the two great kingdoms of life, the plants and animals, so we have the two major kinds of film, fictional and documentary. Within these we have the great genres, ancient, well-established groups: comedy, drama, horror, action. Some of these are healthy and well-loved, but others cling on from decade to decade, in apparent defiance of all logic. As a case in point, I offer to you a film subgenre that as far as I know is almost uniquely British: the TV sitcom spin-off movie.

Was ever a genre so ill-loved? The very mention of it is bound to bring on dark mutterings of Mutiny on the Buses and the Are You Being Served? movie. And yet films of this kind keep getting made: not as many as thirty or forty years ago, true, but still one every few years. And to their number we must add the movie version of The Inbetweeners, directed by Ben Palmer.

The Inbetweeners is a massively and deservedly popular TV show in the UK, concerning itself with the lives of four young male friends united mainly by the fact that they are all idiots: there is snobbish faux-intellectual Will (Simon Bird), pathological liar and borderline sex pest Jay (James Buckley), utter imbecile Neil (Blake Harrison), and easily-agitated master of the ill-thought-through romantic gesture, Simon (Joe Thomas). The film finds the boys’ days at Sixth Form college drawing to a close, and after a few final words of encouragement from their psychotic head teacher (Greg Davies) they decide to celebrate in time-honoured style by going on a lads’ holiday to Crete, in the hope of finally finding some girls who are prepared to spend time with them.

That’s about it, plotwise, although there is a running thread about Simon’s continued infatuation with his ex from back home, who also happens to be staying at the same resort. Even this brief plotline may be enough to set alarm bells ringing for older readers – ‘all the characters go on holiday together’ was the scenario for a couple of particularly egregious offenders in this field back in the seventies, and has become such a cliché that it was referred to in The League of Gentlemen spin-off movie. This movie gets away with it, though, simply because going away on this kind of holiday seems an entirely natural thing for teenage boys to do.

It’s very easy to become rather snobbish oneself when talking about The Inbetweeners, going on about the ironic distancing provided by Will’s voiceover, its forensic dissection of the self-sabotaging behaviour of young males, and the fact that it’s fundamentally an acutely-observed comedy of manners and embarrassment. All of this is true, but the most obvious things about the show are its relentless profanity, debauchery and filthiness, and the fact that the writers don’t seem to be aware that anything resembling a taste barrier even exists. One gets the impression, listening to some critics, that they’re enjoying it for the appropriate reasons, while the mass audience also watching it are just there for the gross-out jokes, which constitute a lesser form of entertainment. I don’t know; I think the show is deceptively well written and performed but at the end of the day we’re all laughing at the same things.

Anyway, fans of the show will be pleased to hear that it’s very much business as usual here. I was curious to see that the movie is rated for 15s-and-older in the UK (I’ve seen a man attempting to smuggle his clearly under-age grandson into a screening, which may tell you something about the reach of this movie), as the DVD releases of the TV show are for 18s-and-older. This might give the impression the movie is a more respectable, restrained piece of work.

Do Not Be Fooled. The language is even fouler here than on the small screen, and the film-makers have enthusiastically explored some of the possibilities of comedic male nudity (I would say it was ballsy of the lead actors to go along with this, but…). In other ways, though, the transition to the big screen is more significant in that the running time of the story has been boosted from a compact 25 minutes to an expansive 100.

The TV show at its best works by briskly getting the characters into an excruciatingly embarrassing and/or humiliating situation, which forms the climax to that episode. At its end they all go off, no wiser or better equipped for the following week’s story. You can’t really adapt that formula for a movie and the writers haven’t tried – instead, they’ve fallen back on a trusty old three-act structure concerning the lads meeting some girls, falling out with each other, learning things about themselves along the way, and so on. (Deftly woven into this are a large number of obscene jokes, of course.)

For me it worked reasonably well, aided enormously by the performances of the four leads (James Buckley is, as usual, particularly good) – it may not quite match the heights attained by such timeless moments as ‘Help, we’ve caught a fish’, ‘He was looking at me when he did that,’ or ‘I don’t like the way he keeps making eye contact’, but it’s consistently amusing throughout and there were moments which had me literally breathless and weeping with laughter. I suspect it will help if you’re a fan of the TV show and go in well-disposed towards it, though. On the other hand, the shift in locale does mean there’s hardly any Mr Gilbert (one of the TV show’s most reliably funny characters) in the movie – I get the impression most of his scenes have been cut. Beyond this, the only real brick I can throw is that, for a film based on a show that was unstintingly realistic about the likelihood of teenage idiots getting anywhere with girls, the fact that the plot revolves around our heroes repeatedly meeting a quartet of attractive and obliging female counterparts did seem a little too good to be true (for some reason, the fact that the girls are visibly in their late twenties is much more obvious than it is in the – so-called – boys’ case).

The odd moment excepted, The Inbetweeners’ small-screen origins are not difficult to discern, but I can’t see that harming this movie much. Even with the TV show now officially over, it and the characters remain enduringly popular and there’s a great appetite for this film (it outperformed Cowboys & Aliens on the weekend both films opened in the UK). It shouldn’t disappoint anyone, even if it trades on the reputation of the TV series rather than appreciably adding to it. The most guiltily pleasurable of guilty pleasures.

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