Transforming the characters for worse and devolving into painful parody, The Inbetweeners 2 offers a bitter end for the franchise.
After three weeks at number one, The Inbetweeners 2 has just found itself kicked down to second place at the Great British box office. Since it landed in UK cinemas on August 6th, the second cinematic spin-off of the E4 sitcom has racked up £31 million and counting, putting it just behind Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’s £32 mil score for the year. Let’s put that into perspective: four sex-starved lunatics prone to pathetic teenage strops and random bouts of defecation are challenging a $170 million behemoth starring machine gun-wielding apes on horseback for dominance at the UK box office. It can mean only one thing – despite the creators’ protestations, more Inbetweeners might just be inevitable.
The Inbetweeners 2 is an agonising watch – it’s revolting, distancing and nearly laugh-free – but it’s doubly agonising for fans
For UK critics, more would apparently be a welcome proposition. These are, after all, the esteemed members of the British press that called The Inbetweeners 2 “hysterically funny” and “the year’s funniest film”. The more recent reviews out of Australia and New Zealand tell a different story, however. Merely coincidentally set in Australia after the first Inbetweeners movie became a hit with audiences there, you’d almost think film number two was made with this market in mind (after the UK, of course, where The Inbetweeners 2 broke box office records for a comedy by making £2.75 million on opening day alone). And yet, not nearly as sentimental about The Inbetweeners as those British critics, many reviewers from Down Under have mercilessly taken The Inbetweeners 2 to task; The Australian’s Evan Williams for one described it as “crass, crude and monumentally unfunny.”
More important, however, is the sentiment of a critic who actually enjoyed the film: “if you’re a fan of The Inbetweeners, as I am, then you will like this…if you’re not, then you simply won’t.” The Spectactor’s Deborah Ross is only repeating an oft-repeated maxim there, but she’s wrong. The Inbetweeners 2 is an agonising watch – not crude but revolting, not relatable but distancing, nearly entirely laugh-free – but it’s doubly agonising for fans. Writer-creators Iain Morris and Damon Beasley, here promoting themselves to directing roles for the first time, have seemingly given fans what they want – more sex, more swearing, more defecation – but have in the process robbed the property of its underdog charm. It feels like the equivalent of someone you trust taking four favourite pets out the back and slowly euthanising them one by one.
The headline-grabbing gross-out humour taking a leap too far in The Inbetweeners 2 isn’t the main issue, despite the inclusion of a scene where a chundering Will (Simon Bird) wades through a public pool covered in human shit, and another where Simon (Joe Thomas) hungrily opens his mouth for Neil (Blake Harrison) to urinate into. No, these scenes – outstandingly – aren’t most harmful to the memory of a comedy that once revelled in its suburban normalness, that once had an aw-shucks fondness for the fallibility of youth. Instead, it’s the complete disregard for the characters by the writers who introduced them in the first place.
The Inbetweeners’ winning quality has been replaced by mean-spiritedness, not just towards characters we once rooted for
On paper at least, maybe The Inbetweeners 2 is a fan’s dream version of the show, taking all that stood out about the original TV show to the extreme. So now a completely pathetic and masochistic Jay (James Buckley) tells inflated lies about having threesomes with the Minogues, an apparently-lobotomised Neil kills a dolphin by feeding it fast food, and Will, latterly one of modern comedy’s most endearing losers, has evolved into a hateable pedant. Not unlikeable, but hateable – having turned into a supercilious oaf critical of everything and everyone, Will McKenzie has come to register as the least sympathetic character in The Inbetweeners. Once he was our way into the madness, the voice of reason; now his vision’s only as skewed as the others’, leaving us without a guide or wise central figure with which to empathise.
On the whole, The Inbetweeners’ winning quality has been replaced by a mean-spiritedness, not just towards the very characters we once rooted for, but towards humankind on the whole. Backpackers, the well-to-do and middle-aged married couples all receive their dose of venom, but, most worryingly, the women of The Inbetweeners 2 get the roughest deal. What read like a sort of pathetic male gaze in the TV show now comes across as straight misogyny. Simon, brilliantly played by Joe Thomas, and the only remaining source of relatable normality at this point, is present merely to react off of ever-erupting girlfriend Lucy (Tamla Kari), who’s inexplicably turned into a psychotic bunny boiler between films and who represents the worst of The Inbetweeners brought to a crescendo: a badly-written and self-centred female character that treats the male species like dirt.
Morris and Beesely, however, reserve their harshest punishment for their leads, the two seemingly joyous in demeaning their well-loved creations for the sake of a bitter schadenfreude. At one point, Jay ‘outs’ Simon as a paedophile at a family water park, which results in Simon beaten up by two grown men as Jay gleefully flees the scene. It’s a situation belonging to a farcical comedy, but not The Inbetweeners. At least not the Inbetweeners which once so deftly balanced understated gross-out humour and neat dialogue. Sadly, an affinity with catchy wordplay has also come to elude Morris and Beesley in The Inbetweeners 2; old catchphrases are repeated at will (“clunge” and “bus wanker” get regular airings) as the writing duo simultaneously try to come up with new ones, all notably involving the word “banter”, which became outdated as a student catchword roughly three years ago.
What The Inbetweeners was is no more; the foul-mouthed but ultimately sweet-natured characters of the TV show are gone
The Inbetweeners 2 is a film that shouldn’t have reached cinemas, never mind smashed box office records. But thanks to – and admittedly I fall into every category here – fans of the show, cultured types seeking guilty laughs, mainstreamers aching to be part of the conversation, and people just wanting to take a break from hearing about how much worse things on Earth have become by retreating to the cinema, The Inbetweeners 2 has made a serious amount of cash in the UK. It all but guarantees a continuation of the story – everything’s a trilogy these days, and financially The Inbetweeners 2 feels like the series’ turning point from humble cult object into full-blown franchise.
But it also marks the moment at which The Inbetweeners was made good and stone dead. What The Inbetweeners was is no more; the foul-mouthed but ultimately sweet-natured characters of the original series are gone, replaced by soulless duplicates prepared to do anything for your cash, while the show has devolved into a slop of stale dialogue, cliches and unnervingly casual misogyny. The Inbetweeners 2 may have astonishingly given a property starring four 20/30-somethings as adolescents a new lease of life, but the inspired original incarnation of this once-majestically bad-mannered comedy is well and truly gone.
All images: Film4