There's a general acknowledgment that there are two critic proof genres in film, horror and comedy. In the case of the former, it's because so much of what the critical community considers necessary for truly great filmmaking– uniqueness of vision, dynamics of aestheticism, effectiveness of scripting– are entirely unnecessary when you just want to scare, terrorize or indulge people. If you're a horror hound, chances are you really don't care about the comment on post-9/11 American fears and how they affect tourism that Hostel may or may not be, you want to know if it brings the gore. Likewise, it probably doesn't matter to you that Ginger Snaps is the single greatest examination of female sexual maturation in horror since Carrie. Comedy doesn't necessarily have that same critic-fan divide, since uniqueness often is important in the genre, and writing is arguably more important to comedy than any other element outside of timing. But where the two genres share some crossover in how critically bulletproof they are is in individual taste, the way some things just work for you or don't.
Technically, all a comedy really has to do in order to succeed is to make you laugh and under that criteria, The Inbetweeners Movie satisfies. As the first feature film spin-off of the popular and critically beloved E4 series with which it shares a name (minus, of course, that silly movie suffix), The Inbetweeners Movie sets out to pretty much provide a full length post-school adventure for its four leads, dropping them in an exotic location (Crete) with a typical lads' day out focus (getting laid, drinking, getting laid, drinking some more) and a well-trodden central conflict in the form of a breakup one of them endures shortly before leaving, which then leads into an even more well-trodden central conflict regarding the way friendships disintegrate without something like school to bolster them. You've seen all this before, and you've probably seen it done better and worse and there's no real point in documenting the myriad productions, recent or otherwise, that have mined the same material, with locations and characters swapped out at your convenience.
But where The Inbetweeners Movies finds its challenge is in the dilemma of making these characters click for audiences that may not be familiar with them, namely the American audience this film is now being rolled out for, on the heels of an MTV adaptation of the series and the massive success the film has enjoyed in the UK, where it is now "the fastest grossing live action comedy in UK box office history," apparently. The good news is that regardless of your familiarity with the show, the characters are easy to distinguish and their pre-film stories and interactions function largely as dressing here. In other words, you don't need to go seek out all three series of the show, you can just sit back and enjoy or not enjoy the film. Part of that is because these characters, while more or less fully functional, are essentially tropes. There's Will (Simon Bird), the smart one who lacks a conversational filter; Jay (James Buckley), the horndog foul-mouthed partier who lacks a conversational filter; Neil (Blake Harrison), the dumb, happy, possible GILF fetishist who lacks a conversational filter; and then Simon (Joe Thomas), the pretty boy whose recent breakup motivates the vacation the film is structured around and who also lacks a conversational filter, except in his case it has everything to do with how he can't shut up about his ex.
Will is the one we're supposed to root for, since he's not a complete idiot and his voice over narration makes his perspective front and center. He's also less prone to making homophobic remarks (that'd be Jay), or to fingering elderly women on dance floors (that'd be Neil), or moping about as a woman who's too good for him tries to distract him (that'd be Simon). Will also has a legitimately funny, acidic wit that he seems to be unaware of, making it all the more effective. Regardless of character development issues, the chemistry between Simon Bird and his castmates is excellent, allowing his dry humor to be the real star over the sometimes over-the-top and forced antics of his friends. And while The Inbetweeners will never, ever function as a progressive comedy that treats women, homosexuals or non-Brits well, the film offers a surprising amount of the spotlight to a group of four women who serve as a relatively strong contrast to the stars. There are some problems in how they're presented (real talk: if you ran into four boring morons in an empty club while on vacation in Crete, and they continuously offended you, would you really hang out with them any longer?), but at least those problems are remarked upon and their narrative purpose is somewhat explained.
Leading that group is Alison (Laura Haddock), a smart, confident young woman who Will is naturally drawn to despite the presence of her little seen but decidedly sleazy Greek boyfriend Nikos. The interactions between Alison and Will are amongst the strongest in the movie, because she's frank and blunt with him, while also admiring his own frankness and sardonic humor. But the standout of the group is Lydia Rose Bewley's Jane, who at first appears to be a set-up for questionable fat jokes but proves herself to be the sharpest, most developed female character in the entire film. Granted, we don't get the full effect of that until the end of the film and her eventual triumph involves someone walking around with poop on their nose.
But ultimately The Inbetweeners Movie falls somewhere slightly above Ali G in Da House in terms of translating a smart, well-regarded British comedy show to the big screen. It provides more than a few scenes of genuine hilarity but it lacks the depth and sharpness of its source material, instead favoring a crowd pleasing mentality that aims for the lowest common denominator instead of reaching ambitiously for something else. The Inbetweeners Movie will likely do better than Ali G in Da House because it has timed itself well, functioning like a less gonzo The Hangover for people who automatically think being British makes you more intelligent and interesting. Likewise, if you love gay panic jokes and people walking around with poop on their nose, you'll probably get more out of this film. But its real success is in showing that the Brits can be as obnoxious, horny and belligerent as any Americans though in this case not quite as funny. Still, with the casts' stars rising, maybe getting the Big Dumb Debut out of the way will open up more opportunities for edgier, braver performances.
The Inbetweeners Movie is currently playing in select cities in the U.S. Check your local listings for more info.
When he's not writing about the cape and spandex set and functioning as the Co-Managing Editor of Comics Bulletin, Nick Hanover is a book, film and music critic who has contributed to Spectrum Culture, No Tofu Magazine, Performer Magazine, Port City Lights and various other international publications. By which he means Canadian rags you have no reason to know anything about. He also translates for "Partytime" Lukash's Panel Panopticon and you can follow him on twitter @Nick_Hanover