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Adolescence Hangover

MOVIE REVIEW
The Inbetweeners (2011)

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Nicola Dove/Wrekin Hill Entertainment

One of the reasons that Europe is better than North America is a lower drinking age. In Britain, one can be served beer with a meal (a packet of potato chips counts) from the age of 16; on the continent, you are allowed beer and wine without restriction but must wait until 18 or 21, depending on the country, before being legally allowed spirits. No one, of course, lies to get around it. This means that British teenagers have the full spring break experience at 18 in Mediterranean resorts such as Malia in Crete and Magaluf in Spain, where “The Inbetweeners” was filmed. And yet somehow no one had previously thought to make a movie of the whole vomit-covered, Red-Bull-and-vodka-soaked, dance-music-scored mess which was both suitable for the international market and starring actual teenagers.

Fortunately, “The Inbetweeners” TV show came to an end in 2010 (although the American remake has just started) and so it was natural to wrap things up by taking the gang of four male friends on a bar crawl. You don’t need to know the TV show to understand the group dynamic, though: There’s Will (Simon Bird), the prissy narrator; Jay (James Buckley), the outrageously incompetent horndog; Neil (Blake Harrison), who is sweet but oh so dim; and Simon (Joe Thomas), who has been hopelessly in love with Carli (Emily Head, daughter of Giles from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) since age eight. Through Simon's engineering, the boys end up at the same resort for their 2-week vacation where Carli is also enjoying herself. The group is furious to learn that once again they have been manipulated into assisting Simon with this hopeless relationship. But with so much different talent on display, they can't stay mad for long.

The strength of the TV show was that great care was taken to keep the characters at the same level of uncoolness as each other. The movie does the same, sharing out equally the vomiting, humiliation at the hands of pretty girls, humiliation at the hands of cooler guys and accidental sex with middle-aged women. For many teenagers, this movie is an accurate reflection of their own recent alcohol-soaked adventures and the state of relationships between young British men and women. Older viewers can rejoice, then, their days of similar idiocy are behind them. And the movie has important questions to be answered: Will Will ever get a girlfriend? Will Jay stop being such a terrible person? Will Neil finally find someone who likes him? And, most importantly, what will Simon do about Carli?

The girls and the guys go around in rival gangs like in “Grease,” but instead of dancing they challenge each other to shot-drinking contests. The most genuine moment of human feeling among all the bad behavior comes after Jay and Neil see something truly impressive in a nightclub floor show, a moment which neatly captures the movie’s combination of genuine friendship and epic bad behavior. British comedic actors have a special talent of being completely unafraid of making themselves look bad on screen, and this means the theater of humiliation as shown in this movie is raw, tactless, tasteless and completely bloody hilarious - well, O.K., only if you've ever gotten drunk and done something stupid. In a refreshing and important change, the movie is also not insulting to women. Some of the characters are, of course; and some of the language used will certainly sharpen the eardrums, but writers Damon Beesley and Iain Morris never make the mistake of letting anyone get away with their immature, juvenile behavior.

Director Ben Palmer has cut his teeth on British TV comedy and directs in a sunny but nonflashy style, which does a lot to escape the shadow thrown by “Kevin & Perry Go Large,” made in 2000, another movie based on a TV comedy about teenage boys in summer clubland. It never got an American release despite one of the boys being played by Kathy Burke. Showing real teenage boys acting this way was a surprise smash hit in Britain last summer. But regardless of the movie's success, thank goodness you can’t be 18 again.

THE INBETWEENERS

Opens on Sept. 7 in New York and Los Angeles.  

Directed by Ben Palmer; written by Iain Morris and Damon Beesley; director of photography, Ben Wheeler; edited by William Webb and Charlie Fawcett; music by Mike Skinner; production design by Dick Lunn; costumes by Rosa Dias; produced by Christopher Young; released by Wrekin Hill Entertainment. Running time: 1 hour 36 minutes. This film is rated R.

WITH: Simon Bird (Will McKenzie), Joe Thomas (Simon Cooper), James Buckley (Jay Cartwright), Blake Harrison (Neil Sutherland), Lydia Rose Bewley (Jane), Laura Haddock (Alison), Jessica Knappett (Lisa), Tamla Kari (Lucy), Emily Head (Carli), Theo James (James), Greg Davies (Mr. Gilbert) and Anthony Head (Will’s Dad).

Comments

Actually, Simon doesn't know that Carli has gone to the same place as him. It's Neil that arranges the holiday after finding out where the girls are headed. (Out of stupidity rather than malice.)

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