Movie review: “The Inbetweeners”

The successful British sitcom transitions gracefully and disgustingly to the big screen. Very fetch.

Griffin Fillipitch

 

“The Inbetweeners”

Where: Lagoon Cinema

Rated: R

Directed by: Ben Palmer

Starring: Simon Bird, James Buckley, Blake Harrison

Opens: Sept. 13

 

Anyone who sets out to make a raunchy comedy like “The Inbetweeners” must know they’re doing so in a post-“Superbad” world. When Seth Rogen and Bill Hader befriended that 25-year-old Hawaiian organ donor, the standards for a great teen comedy changed. Even as the hormone-fueled quest for alcohol and sex spun out of control, “Superbad” was grounded in a reality absent from the genre before. The result was a movie almost as heartbreaking as it was hilarious.

“The Inbetweeners” isn’t capable of that, but at times, it comes close. It’s the movie version of the British sitcom of the same name, which was recently reworked for MTV. The movie keeps the same actors and writers as the original series.

The show painfully and profanely documents the often pathetic lives of Will McKenzie (Bird) and his three obnoxious, but likeable, sex-obsessed best friends in suburban Britain. The movie finds them graduating from high school and traveling to Greece for “two weeks of sun, sea, sex, sand, booze, sex, [expletive], [expletive] and [expletive].”

It’s a familiar conceit. “The Inbetweeners” regularly brings the teen classics like “American Pie” to mind. The guys get caught masturbating, struggle with skinny dipping and use bodily functions to get revenge on their rivals. It’s all dumb and has all been done before, but there is something novel about the way the movie takes these moments to illogical extremes.

Many of the biggest laughs come in the midst of even bigger cringes. But when it goes way too far, it never feels forced. The title characters are naive enough to make it seem like they come by their clichéd embarrassments honestly.

For gross-outs that don’t work, and there are several, there is usually a good piece of wry British wit around the corner. The combination of broad, disgusting laughs and smart, pithy dialogue set “The Inbetweeners” apart from other, less notable post-“Superbad” teen comedies. Movies like “Sex Drive” and “Project X” don’t have as many comedic tools to work with.

Bridging the gap between smart and dumb is mostly the job of Bird, who plays the central character, Will, perfectly. He recognizes the stupidity of his friends, himself and the party culture they immerse themselves in and enjoys it wholeheartedly anyway. Bird’s performance is consistently honest.

However, Will is really the only character that gets a completely three-dimensional treatment. His friends are often frustratingly moronic and set in their flaws (superficial, selfish, hung up on ex-girlfriends). They each get an arc, but these are usually contrived and predictable. Each finds a girl, wrongs the girl, makes it up to the girl and then gets the girl.

Even as the guys fight  romance and confront the future on their Greek vacation, it’s clear the story is not what makes the movie work.

“The Inbetweeners” is full of enjoyable but unrealistic and ultimately unsatisfying plot points. Still, it understands things about its title characters that many teen comedies do not. The fear and insecurity residing underneath its characters’ phony masculinity is both funny and sad. “The Inbetweeners” is smart enough to see both sides.

 

 

3/4 stars