Usually when a film isn’t screened in advance for the press, it’s because it’s “not one for the critics” ie. a genre movie, or shit, or both. The Inbetweeners Movie, distributed by Entertainment – who seem to make it a badge of honour not to pander to critics – is certainly not one for the critics. But it is not shit. At least, it is the same as the E4 sitcom that spawned it, and if you like one, you’ll like the other. My guess – indeed, my fervent hope – is that nobody will be rocking up to the cinema this weekend wondering what The Inbetweeners Movie might be like and taking a punt on it. If you’ve seen the show, you’ll know. If you haven’t, do not start here.
I was a little late to the party, I admit – when am I not, right, kids? – and I remember borrowing the DVD of the first series off Richard and racing through the whole thing in one sitting, all six episodes, back to back. That’s how excited I was by it. I couldn’t believe I’d ignored it thinking it would be a bit like a “comedy Skins“. It wasn’t. Skins is, I’m sure, perfect for its target audience – I’ve only seen two episodes, one from the first series, one from the most recent, and they seemed well written and feisty and cool, but when you identify with the parents and teachers, you’re probably too old to watch it.
What’s so special about The Inbetweeners is simply that it can be enjoyed equally by people around the same age as its hormonal sixth-form protagonists and those closer in age to the parents and teachers who remember what it was like to be at school. Because these boys aren’t cool, no matter how hard they try, it’s easier to empathise with them from 20 years’ remove. (It’s the same with Misfits, another show on E4 that I adore: it’s about “youths” but oddballs, not the cool kids.) Anyway, having willingly watched six episodes of The Inbetweeners in a row, the idea of watching about four in a row, which is just about how long the film lasts, is a piece of cake.
To declare an interest: I know Iain Morris and Damon Beesley, who created, wrote and produced the show – and the film – but I’m glad to say I met them, professionally, and as a result socially, after I’d caught up with and fallen for their show. (To declare a further interest: their company, Bwark, paid me to script edit The Persuasionists, which they made for BBC2, and to develop a comedy of my own, which never went anywhere but at least now exists in script form, if anyone wants it. The BBC didn’t. And nor did Sky.) What makes it great, and what makes the film great, is that the actors who play the four lads imbue them with a lot of heart. Yes, they’re Bash Street archetypes – swot, sop, braggart, fool – but they’re as complex as their two creators, upon whose schooldays and related experiences the stories are based. Simon Bird is, in particular, a skilled comic actor. And Blake Harrison, who plays Neil, brings real pathos to what might have been a one-dimensional part.
Because there were no advance screenings, I was forced – forced! – to attend the red-carpet world premiere on Tuesday. This not my usual Tuesday night out. Even though Leicester Square in the glittering West End of busy London is mainly a building site at the moment, it was nonetheless thronged with young, female fans, screaming. I guess it’s because they don’t find the male characters threatening. The four main lady actors from the film were in attendance too, looking all premiere-glamorous, although they have much less rewarding parts in the film – they play the “attainable” holiday-romance love interest, or at least they are initially “unattainable” but eventually become “attainable”. Of the four, for my money (and I didn’t pay), only Lydia Rose Bewley, playing “the Fat One” who gives as good as she gets, has anything substantial to work with. But then, it’s about the Inbetweeners, isn’t it? And if anything, it’s the emotional core that we’ve come to identify over three series of observing them on the TV show that stops the film being simply laddish and smutty and sexist.
It is all of those things as well, though, just to reassure you. Although you get way more male nudity than female, so maybe the filmmakers understand their target audience better than I did. I’ll tell you this much: compared to this week’s big blockbuster, the Spielberg-produced, all-star, all-CGI, high-concept Cowboys & Aliens, the low-budget Inbetweeners Movie is way more honest, and way more fun.