Monday, 24 November 2014

BRIT PICK: The Inbetweeners 2 (2014)

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The Inbetweeners 2 (UK, 2014)
Directed by Damon Beesley & Iain Morris
Starring Simon Bird, James Buckley, Blake Harrison, Joe Thomas

I've spoken on many occasions about how screenwriters or novelists don't always make the best directors. As much as we bemoan a director's vision for a given film not gelling with that of the writer, when writers get behind a camera they often fail to grasp the difference between cinematic and literary storytelling. This is true of the cult classic Westworld, the would-be cult classic Sir Henry at Rawlinson End, and the coming-of-age drama The Perks of Being A Wallflower.

 
The Inbetweeners 2 sees Damon Beesley and Iain Morris, the creators of the TV series, stepping behind the camera for a film which bids farewell to the famous foursome. Just as the first film was an exception to the rule that all films based on British comedies are terrible, so this film is an exception to the rule that writers can't direct. While some of the comedy still doesn't belong, it is both an improvement on the first film and a fitting way to say goodbye.
 
The first big success of The Inbetweeners 2 is that it actually looks and feels like a film. This may seem an obvious point, but it's one that you can very rarely say about British comedy adaptations, both in the past and in recent times. While the production values of The Inbetweeners Movie were pretty decent, it still looked and felt like an extended TV episode. This is all-round more cinematic, with better compositions, a wider choice of angles and a glossier feel.
 
The explanation for this is not straightforward. Had Beesley and Morris jettisonned all the old crew upon taking the helm, it would be easy to put this transition down solely to their creative talents. But the film is shot by the same person as before (Ben Wheeler), edited by the same person (William Webb) and produced by the same person (Christopher Young, for Film4). Most if not all of the production team have done the bulk of their work in television rather than feature films.
 
The true explanation lies in a combination of creative freedom and an understanding of direction in terms of purpose. Directing a film is not just about making sure that all the constituent parts fit together in a workable order: it is about communicating a story, theme or idea with a clear and preferably unique voice. Not only do Beesley and Morris have more freedom following the success of the first film, but they have a clear idea of where they want to go, regardless of audience expectations.
 
The second big plus of The Inbetweeners 2 is that it adds depth and humanity to the characters. This is also one of the characteristics which make it feel more cinematic: we actually see the characters grow in a meaningful way (well, meaningful enough) over a long period of time. This is something that can be done on both film and TV but in different ways; while TV episodes can space out and break up character development, on film it has to be much more seamless, as it is here.
 
The difference between this film and its predecessor is a dominance of character over situation. The Inbetweeners Movie was essentially a genre exercise: it dropped these characters into overly familiar surroundings and sat back to see what would happen. This film may share some familiar characteristics of episodes, particularly in the Splash Mountain scenes, but this time the characters drive any given situation and the progression from one to the next feels a lot more natural.
 
Most of the boys have an emotional arc which we can follow through the film and which makes them more rounded and believable. Will's relationship with Katie sees him disown his friends, only to realise the emptiness of both his prep-school friendship with her and the lifestyle that she and Ben have chosen to inhabit. His tirades around the camp fires are right on the money, puncturing both the pretentiousness of spiritual tourism and the egos of the people who take part in it.
 
Simon's relationshipwith Lucy (who has become a complete yandere) sees him finally stick up for himself when it comes to relationships; even if it's resolved in a rather convenient manner, he at least goes through the process of deciding who he values and why. Jay, arguably the least likeable character at face value, is developed the most when we discover his capacity for both remorse and genuine love. His insecurity and regret regarding Jane is very welcome and is prevents the film from repeating itself. The only one short-changed in this department is Neil; while arguably he's already happier than all the other boys, he's ultimately reduced to out-of-context comic relief.
 
The third big plus of The Inbetweeners 2 is that it is funnier than its predecessor. It's still every bit a gross-out comedy which treads the fine line between edgy and offensive, but there's much less of a reliance on set-pieces, and what set-pieces there are are much more memorable. With the log flume incident, it's as though Beesley and Morris saw Caddyshack, got to the infamous pool scene, and thought: "how can we make this even funnier?".
 
Many of the funniest moments in the film will simultaneously make you howl with laughter and grimace in disgust. The scene involving Neil in the pub with the dog may feature unconvincing prostethics, but for the brief glance we get (which is all we'll ever need), it does its job. The same goes for Will's falsetto singging around the camp fire, the aforementioned log flume incident, and Simon getting urinated on by Neil in the Outback.
 
While these scenes are funny, some of the more sexual jokes are completely unnecessary. The scene where Simon is accused of being a paedophile is really uncomfortable; it's not attempting to say anything clever or expose any kind of absurd attitude, it's just plain gruesome and should have been cut. The same goes for the various mentions of rape which pop up over the running time. While the film holds back from out-and-out using sexual violence as a punchline, it seems content to use the word as a cheap laugh when it should be anything but.
There are other moments of the film which on deeper reflection don't make a lot of sense. The scene with the four boys holding hands in the Outback as they die of thirst is very touching, being somewhere between the existential loneliness of Walkabout and the incinerator sequence in Toy Story 3. But then you notice that the boys are avoiding their only source of shade, and leaning against a car which is roasting hot. It doesn't throw the film completely off-balance, but it's a niggle that lingers aftwards. 
 
The Inbetweeners 2 is an improvement on its predecessor which merits its existence as a means of deepening the characters. Beesley and Morris both write and direct well, with better jokes (by and large) and a greater focus on the characters rather than the situations in which they find themselves. Just like its predecessor, it's not without its problems, but if this is the last we see of Simon, Will, Neil and Jay, then it's a fitting way to finish. 

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NEXT REVIEW: Step Up 4: Miami Heat (2012)

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