Il Quattro Deficienti
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 such doing something so dubious). 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 30 or 40 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– the 'all the characters go on holiday together' was the scenario for a couple of particularly egregious offenders in this field back in the 1970s, 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 and 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.