The Inbetweeners – Ben Palmer
Tragedy takes many forms but there can few things more acutely tragic than the sight of four basically decent English lads adrift on a sea of hormones, desperately trying to get laid. The odds they face are truly frightening: their chronological equals of the fairer sex are light-years ahead emotionally and with cruel insouciance, totally aware of the power they wield from a casual flick of the hair to a forensically exploratory snogging session. These fragrant targets of rampant masculine lust are also cruel mistresses of the firm and fast series of blocking manoeuvres that rigorously repel exploratory, trembling hand movements: gently barring the road North but cutting off any movement South with the speed and efficiency of a crack division of German Panzers.
Many critics have been a bit sniffy about The Inbetweeners, but queues for most performances have thrust it to number one at the box office. The acid test of comedy: people don’t laugh because it’s funny; it’s funny because people laugh. Of course the spectrum of things people laugh at is very wide and no one would claim that The Inbetweeners is at the wittier, subtly nuanced end of that particular rainbow: but its remorseless silliness wins you over: it’s funny and in a very odd kind of way rather good fun too.
What disarms us is the curious innocence of the whole thing. It does seem to me as if a bunch of adolescents from the late fifties has been time-warped into the present and I wonder just how true their likeable but culpable ignorance of all the activities on planet sex, is of young people in 2011. It is true that the immense appeal of the excruciatingly embarrassing mishaps, often in full public view, that befall youthful homus erectus (homi erecti?) in their cherry-losing struggles – is eternal. Our four Musketlaids may talk crudely and incessantly of cocks and vages, arses and tits but it does all come over as a bit poo, belly, bummish and about as objectionable as a penis-shaped balloon.
I had only seen a couple of episodes of the hit TV series before the film and it is as true as it is a cliché about TV spin-offs, 96 minutes is a bit of stretch especially as it essentially consists of endless variations of the same joke. For those unfamiliar with the series, Will (Simon Bird: who looks, speaks and turns a comic line like David Mitchell’s love-child) is a bespectacled, brainy nerd and virgin. Neil (Blake Harrison) is tall, geeky and with, it emerges, a curiously dedicated line in pleasuring older ladies of the fuller figure variety when he isn’t demonstrating his ethical sensibilities and faithfulness to his girlfriend by eschewing kissing his holiday conquest while dry-humping her on a public bench. I said it was funny – not subtle, or tasteful. Simon (Joe Thomas) is sort of normal and straightforwardly good-looking with the added cachet of actually having a girlfriend, Carli, who is beginning to tire of his dog-like devotion and lack of useful sexual experience. Jay (James Buckley) is a shoe-in for a gold medal if there is a last-minute addition of masturbation to next year’s Olympics. Why, when his mother, not for the first time, catches him in his bedroom, vigorously practising, he is wearing snorkel and goggles is left unexplained. Mercifully.
Having just finished Secondary School our chums decide to seek greener pastures and more co-operative girls in Malia, Greece (actually Magaluf in disguise). Our heroes, on the hunt for sex, meet up with 4 basically decent girls trailing a tantalising sexual scent on the road to romance. In the interplay here between the two groups and of course amongst the lads, the ‘F’ word – friendship – underlies the action much of the time. Nerdy Will gets an offer he can’t refuse; Simon sees the light which shows him the writing on the wall, Neil reveals a hilarious but not unimpressive line in dance; and Jay, well Jay swaps his delusional expectations and solo satisfaction to discover real is better than imagined and two is more fun than one.
The Inbetweeners is shamelessly, indeed proudly silly; puerile, crass, crude and fairly disgusting but it is also idealistically, if unrealistically moral: all the good-looking guys are shits and lose out in the end; the girls are comfortable with the cultural mores of expecting lads to try, but maintaining an implacable control over how far anything goes. The film also demonstrates the profound distinction between British humour of embarrassment and American: the difference between self-mockery and mockery; affection and cruelty; laughing with and laughing at. And the dance scene and fashion parade will still have you chuckling in the car on the way home.
All good, thoroughly reprehensible, dirty fun. Sort of like a Summer Holiday with (hairy) balls and without the music: improvements both.