14 September, 2011

OK, before I go any further – or, indeed, actually start – I want to point out again, this post features spoilers from the movie and if you haven’t seen it, you may want to look away now.

Right, with that out of the way, shall we begin?

At the weekend, I saw The Inbetweeners Movie and I found it quite enjoyable. I have been a fan of the show, especially the first series, for a while and I think it’s probably the best representation of what being a teenage boy is like, particularly if you’re a bit of an outcast, ne loser. It captures the general idiocy of the teenage boy brilliantly whilst being a hell of a lot funnier than I or any of my friends ever were at that kind of age. It captures the way boys almost constantly think about sex without ever actually getting anywhere very well indeed and also does a pretty good job of presenting the girls as smarter and more mature which, again, is probably pretty accurate.

I can totally understand that it would be possible to interpret the ways in which the boys speak to one another about the fairer sex as demeaning – especially arch-misogynist Jay (James Buckley) – and to level the complaint of sexism at their door but what I think it does is make it clear that the ways in which the boys talk is both funny and wrong. The laughter is generated by how idiotic the speech and views are rather than any kind of agreement with the way in which the boys talk. It reminds me of a question Kevin Smith was asked in his first “An Evening With…” DVD.

A young woman who identified herself to the audience as a lesbian complained that Smith’s film Chasing Amy – a brilliant film and interesting companion piece to The Inbetweeners now I think about it – represented the view that all lesbians need to turn them straight is “a deep dicking” and that by putting this view into the film Smith might be encouraging the view to be held by a wider audience.

Smith’s answer is both concerned and excellent and he presents a perfect counter-argument. Smith puts the words into the mouth of Banky (played by Jason Lee), the idiot character of the piece (the Falstafian fool, if you will). How can we take the sentiment seriously, Smith asks, when it is spoken by such an idiot? This is one of the tricks of the writing trade. It is far better to undermine an argument by writing a foolish character to agree with it than to write a righteous character lecturing on its falsehoods.

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Smith takes further pains to point out that he can’t be responsible for how people interpret his films. If someone sees Chasing Amy and agrees with Banky, doesn’t see him as the fool spouting rubbish, is that Smith’s fault? Is Smith further reinforcing this viewpoint held and should he be accountable for that? This points to an author’s dilemna I think – what to do if your work is misinterpreted? I’m not sure there is anything you can do. You write it with an interpretation in mind and if someone chooses to take an unsavoury reading, all you can do is point out that they are wrong. Perhaps it points to errors in the way in which it was written in the first place, but equally there will always be people who read things between the lines that aren’t there. You, as the author, cannot be responsible for that. You aren’t responsible for that.

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This is the same argument I would make about the characters in The Inbetweeners – clearly they are fools, and Jay in particular is undermined in his sexual boasting by both the ludicrous extremes he takes it to and his father pointing out that he’s never slept with a girl (and has a tiny penis into the bargain). Added to all of that, Jay is undermining his own efforts with the fairer sex by making such efforts and perhaps if he revealed the (possibly) sweeter guy beneath the bravado he’d have more luck.

So what does this have to do with the movie? First, a brief set-up:

The boys have finished college and two of them are off to university next year, leaving the other two behind. Simon (Joe Thomas) is dumped by his girlfriend (Carli – Emily Head) as she’s going to a different uni, is going on holiday (with girl-friends, not him) and wants to have fun, and thinks that the long distance relationship a) won’t last and b) will just cause Simon more pain. Simon’s devastated so his three friends decide they should all go on a lads holiday to help him to get over it and to help them get some ‘clunge’.

The apartment booked is a disaster, the boys don’t have much more luck finding decent places to drink, and it turns out they are in the same place Carli has gone with her friends leading to more existential angst for Simon. In the first place they go for a drink they meet 4 girls who seem, in many ways, a perfectly matched group for the boys. As the film goes on, the boys and girls keep meeting up and it becomes clear that by the end of the film each of them will be paired up.

Pretty standard fair really. There are the usual kind of jokes along the way, along with both breasts and penises on display (it’s equal opportunities nudity here), a little scatology, plenty of people putting their foot in it, misguided attempts at grand romantic gestures – all in all, everything you would expect. And it’s carried out with a certain flair. I have to say, I would probably have laughed a lot more had there been more than 4 other people in the cinema, but even so, there were enough sniggering and enough cringing moments to make it worthwhile.

The problem I had with it was with the group of girls the boys met up and paired off with. Not that the girls weren’t perfectly fine actresses or anything, it was an issues with the writing (otherwise, why would I be writing this post?).

The Inbetweeners TV series has done a pretty good job at writing realistic and fleshed-out girls. You could argue that, given there have been 18 episodes, the writers have been granted almost 9 hours of screen time to do this, but even characters that appear for only one episode seem to have been reasonably real. Here I wasn’t so sure. Maybe the movie overstretched itself a little, I’m not sure (but then American Pie did pretty well balancing everything). Actually, that may be a little unfair, most of the time they were fine – sketched out to fulfil a role rather than fully 3-dimensional, but still. I was particularly impressed by both the writing for and acting of Lydia Rose Bewley playing Jane, a larger girl who many movies would have used as the butt of jokes and leave it at that. She brought a sweetness and dignity to the role and it was clearly written to present the point that actually people are people and the ‘supermodel looks’ that often populate teen/highschool comedies (which, despite being British, this definitely is) are not of the real world, beauty can be found anywhere and, let’s face it, Jane is a very attractive girl, regardless of being plus-size.

But this role is central to the problem I had. In the film, Jay is the one paired up with Jane and throughout he is berating her behind her back and, often, to her face (or within easy and knowing earshot). In addition, Simon is paired with Lucy (Tamla Kari) and spends the entire film talking to her about his ex and how he wants to go back out with her. At the end of the film he even takes up her offer of taking her ticket to a big boat party so he can see Carli, rather than hanging out with her. Finally, there’s Neil (Blake Harrison – I’ll come back to Will – Simon Bird – later), who is paired with gawky Lisa (Jessica Knappet) and spends all of his time breaking away from her for some sexual escapades with grannies on the pull.

The problem is that all three of these guys end up with these girls at the end of the film. Can you see a problem with this? At first I didn’t. Especially Jay – he overcame his fear of kissing a fat girl in public and realised that it’s the inner beauty that counts, not what everyone else thinks of him ‘pulling a whale’. Isn’t that a good thing? Showing the boys that it’s not just OK to date a plus-size girl, but actually preferable in many cases? The issue isn’t the sentiment, it’s the lead up to it all.

Throughout the film, the boys treat these girls miserably, and the girls keep hanging around, hoping they’ll change their minds. And when the boys see the errors of their ways the girls are there waiting for them. It made me wonder how low their self-esteem must have been to accept that kind of behaviour and keep coming back for more. I don’t want to seem like a killjoy over this – it’s only a movie, it has the right message etc and so on – but it seems a shame when the TV show has done a pretty good job of putting forward both an accurate and positive view of the female characters, it let it slip in the movie. These girls were in a party town and could probably have pulled every night if they’d tried (I’ve never been on one of these holidays, is that accurate?), but instead they hung around for more punishment. What’s so great about these guys – who 18 episodes have told us are losers – to make the girls hold out for them?

I don’t know, maybe I’m just jealous because when I was a teen I said or did stupid things around girls I fancied that probably, in retrospect, caused offence or turned them off, not out of malice but out of sheer blind stupidity, and not one of them hung around for me.

Oh, and back to Will, I said I’d mention him. He was paired up with Alison (Laura Haddock) who seemd to be channelling a bit of a teenage, British Heather Graham/Rachel Blanchard thing. This was the relationship I thought they kinda got the balance right with. Will said some stupid things, but never did he do anything directly offensive that would have warned any sane girl off. Well, maybe the swimming pool/towel/lounger/disabled girl bit, but we’ll let that slide (it’s basically the same as his protest about not getting the front seat on the roller-coaster from season 1).

So in summary, I’m a bit conflicted by it. The message was right but the writers didn’t nail the way in which they told it. It was a pretty funny film but it could have been better. Three stars. Deservedly more successful at the box office than The Hangover, but not as good as Bridesmaids, in my book…

Sorry – that’s kind of a weak way to end this, but having gotten my point out, I kind of didn’t know where to go with it. Maybe I’ll edit it someday to give it a better ending. But I doubt it.