At first glance, they took the easy way out. The Inbetweeners Movie grossed £45m at the UK box office in 2011, taking the four main characters from the TV show – Simon (Joe Thomas), Will (Simon Bird), Neil (Blake Harrison) and Jay (James Buckley) – away on holiday. To Malia, in fact, where they celebrated the end of their studies by stopping in low grade accomodation, and struggling to connect with women. This time? It takes them to a different country. Thus, without wasting time, The Inbetweeners 2 sees the quartet in Australia, in a tent, struggling to connect with women.
But don’t be fooled. There’s always been a bit more smartness under the bonnet of The Inbetweeners at its best, as writers and creators Iain Morris and Damon Beesley found different ways to inject pathos and vulnerability amidst all the dirty jokes, smut, and moments of joy in the company of Greg Davies. The statement of intent here, in fact, is to get most of the Australian cliches dealt with in a glorious introduction from Jay (it stops one step shy of bring in Paul Hogan and Harold from Neighbours), as James Buckley introduces his life in Australia, inviting the other three to come and visit. By ticking these overtly predictable boxes swiftly, the film can instead focus on other things.
It’s in these early scenes too that we see the surprisingly strong migration of Morris and Beesley from writers to writers and directors. They step behind the camera for their directorial debuts here, and open the film with considerable ambition. Skitting on a popular movie franchise in wonderful style – we’re not going to spoil it, or some of the film’s other surprises here – the pair deliver an unexpected, delightful, cinematic and very funny sequence right up front.
To their credit, they then studiously work along the lines of less is more for much of the rest of the movie. Their camera absorbs the Australian landscape, with stillness and little fuss. It means when they then employ some less usual point of view shots they, especially when the action heads to a water park, it really helps bolster the comedy. The water slide sequence in particular is a satisfying Venn diagram that crosses very gross humour, strong photography and very hearty laughs.
Yet The Inbetweeners has worked so well for so long for two main reasons: writing, and performances. That’s what matters the most here too. There was much reluctance to make a sequel to the first film, not least because the original conceit was that the main characters were once ‘inbetween’ the cooler kids and the nerdy ones. They’re less so now, having shed any semblance of cool a long time ago, but not for the want of trying. If anything, there’s an undercurrent of loneliness and unhappiness to them here, that the film doesn’t shy away from.
Simon, for instance, is stuck in an unhappy relationship he can’t break free from. Neil remains gleefully oblivious to how much of the world he can’t quite fathom. Will remains unsure how to fit into the world (not least surrounded by non-existent university friends), whilst the others fixate on his mother. And then there’s Jay, who turns out to be the most troubled of all.
James Buckley has always injected the character of Jay with a bedrock of surface confidence, and it’s the same here. He talks about bedding the Minogues, about his huge mansion, and about the idyllic life he’s living. Morris and Beesley spend quite a lot of time with Jay though, stripping away the veneer and bothering to explore why he is like he is. In a project where the temptation may have been to reheat the same formula, this is both welcome and successful work. Buckley, it should be said, is quite brilliant, and arguably the standout of an impressive ensemble (which features welcome, if sometimes brief return performances from Inbetweeners alumni).
Still, the main reason most people want to see The Inbetweeners is the humour, and The Inbetweeners 2 delivers no short supply of it. There’s a regular supply of punchy lines, delivered by four lead actors who know their characters inside out. But also, there are some ambitious physical setups that hit far more than they miss. You also get a good mix of hearty guffaws, gleefully offensive humour and penis jokes. And this is, ultimately, why the film delivers so well: if you tap into its humour, it’s very funny, very often.
Once again, noises are being made that this is the last hurrah for The Inbetweeners, and if they were to return again, a more radical shake up may well be needed. But for now? Whilst this new adventure isn’t likely to convert those who haven’t warmed to The Inbetweeners in the past, it’s an upgrade on the last movie, not always a predictable one, and it’s comfortably one of the better comedies of the year.
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