The coming-of-age story is an especially well-worn movie plot and taking your characters to an exotic location, perhaps on a spring or summer break vacation, is nearly as common. We all know how popular raunchy teen sex comedies are nowadays too. Almost inconceivably popular, actually. If all of these elements are together in one movie, it should be something I’d want to avoid at all costs, but if, in the case of director Ben Palmer’s The Inbetweeners Movie, the film is full of likeable (if inept) characters, it’s suddenly exactly what I want to watch. A spinoff from a popular and lauded series on Britain’s E4 network, the film is a gross, dirty, but surprisingly sweet story of four young men finally growing up, perhaps a little later than they should have.
Following on from the series, about four high school outcasts getting into ever-more embarrassing predicaments while trying to get girls, the film takes the action abroad for the boys’ final blast before heading to university (or “uni” as they call it). They decide to go to Malia, an island off of Crete, which is basically where British kids go instead of Cancun. Each of them has a different reason for going. Will (played by Simon Bird) is our ostensible lead and acts, as he does in the series, as our humble narrator. He’s a hyper-intelligent suit-wearing nerd trying to prove to his father (Anthony Stewart Head) that he can be something other than weird. Jay (played by James Buckley) is the sexually deviant virgin who forever finds new and innovative ways of referring to the female anatomy and is on this trip strictly to find the hottest piece of ass. Simon (played by Joe Thomas) had spent the entirety of the series trying to get together with his dream girl Carli (Emily Head) and as the film begins, they are together; though not for long. He’s on the trip to try to forget about her, which is easier said than done as Carli is also on the trip. Rounding out the quartet is Neil (played by Blake Harrison) who is incredibly dim, but well-meaning happy-go-lucky who has the best luck with women, despite already having a girlfriend back home.
Once in Malia, like most things they try to do, the fellas don’t have as easy a time as they’d hoped. Their hotel is disgusting and rat-infested; they don’t have enough money for more than a couple days’ drinking; and they immediately get talked into going into the emptiest bar in the whole island. Before too long, though, four young ladies enter the bar as well and, after some suitably inept dancing, the boys are in conversation with pretty women. It’s almost a foregone conclusion that things will eventually go right between these two disparate groups, but watching their strange courting rituals it’s a wonder anything happens at all. Along the way, also, there are a huge number of cringe-inducing social mishaps that would make any normal person hide for the rest of their lives. One incident involves the irate father of a physically handicapped girl and another features the boys by mistake in the presence of a male stripper with a very…specific talent.
What makes this movie more than just a string of gross-outs and embarrassments is the dialogue and interplay between the characters. Never does the film go too far outside of the kind of storytelling done in the series and this makes it all the stronger. Written by the show’s creators, Iain Morris and Damon Beesley, the script plays to the actors’ strong points and the snappiness of the banter is like something approaching Preston Sturgess. While some of the characters do very stupid things, it never really seems too far-fetched or out of character. We feel a strong connection to the characters and their plight which makes even the more outlandish vignettes grounded in reality. We laugh at them, but never too derisively. The friendships are tested and reaffirmed to a satisfying degree and there’s more than a fair amount of triumph amid the silliness. It helps to know the characters beforehand, but it’s by no means necessary as the themes and humor are about what’s happening right now and the leads’ personalities and quirks are quickly introduced so the story can progress.
What perhaps hurts the film is that it is so episodic. The through-line of the story isn’t firmly established until about the halfway mark when it picks up until the end. It is definitely more about putting these characters outside their comfort zones and seeing how they react, which is fine; but as the movie is only a couple minutes over 90, some of their exploits could have been directly tied to the overall themes. There’s not as much of an emphasis on gross-out humor as there might have been, but it was still more than I generally like, and the film’s insistence that male nudity is funny was overplayed. Also, the resolution, while satisfying, is very upbeat and happy. I’m glad to see these characters come out on top, as they almost never do normally, but the degree to which things work out seems a bit far-fetched, given how the whole premise is that they’re not winners. Ultimately it didn’t affect my enjoyment, but it was a quibble.
The Inbetweeners Movie is packed with really good, funny dialogue and the characters are all well-rounded and believable even in their least believable moments. For what it is and what it’s trying to do, it’s one of the most enjoyable and entertaining comedies I’ve seen all year. Definitely worth a watch.