'The Inbetweeners': Like 'Freaks and Geeks,' But 'Less Attractive and Less Friendly'
The stars of the hit British teen series talk about their new film, and the cringe comedy at its core.
This invasion of four young British lads is just a little bit less cool than the last one.
Still, The Inbetweeners Movie, the finale film to the hit UK teen comedy, may leave US audiences screaming for a whole other set of reasons when it hits theaters this weekend.
After all, the raunchy teen comedy market is a massive gold mine in America, but the boon isn't exactly thanks to their realistic portrayal of post-pubescent mundanity and confusion. With their beautiful, screentest-approved leads and soap opera storylines? They're good popcorn fun, but quite often because they present not real life, but a fantasy.
On the other hand, The Inbetweeners is like a wet dream in the middle of biology class: an absolute nightmare of hilarious, cringe-worthy proportions.
Centered on four hapless lads in a suburban London secondary school, misfits whose sex and social survival impulses are the only two functioning (or, dysfunctioning) nodes in their brains, the series lasted three typically short seasons on Channel 4. It then moved to the big screen last summer, becoming the biggest British comedy of all time. Filled with expletives, (pathetic) nudity and romantic schemes gone awry, it was the first real teen sex comedy the UK could call its own, done in a typically British way.
STORY: Prospects Build for an 'Inbetweeners' Sequel
If you're looking for an American comparison, start off thinking of Judd Apatow and Paul Feig's late 90's cult hit, Freaks and Geeks.
"It’s essentially a British take on that, in that the characters are less attractive and less friendly," Simon Bird, who plays nerdy lead Will McKenzie, told The Hollywood Reporter earlier this week. McKenzie serves as the narrator, and pathetic voice of reason of his group, though he often gets in more trouble than any of the rest.
Rarely a scene goes by in either the show, which is set in their suburban hometown, or the movie, which takes place during a post-graduation "lad's holiday" to a Mediterranean island, that does not contain some sort of profanity, ridiculous (and untrue) sexual boast or backfiring attempt to for once, be cool.
"I think it’s safe to say that censorship over in Britain is a little more liberal," Joe Thomas, the real-life alter-ego of the clumsy, hopeless romantic Simon, pointed out. "And I think because we were actually portraying what teenage boys are actually like, which hadn’t really been done before with that amount of realism and that amount of frivolity, it was allowed to just happen. And I think because they’re such laughable characters, you’re laughing at them the whole time, you’re not taking what they say particularly seriously, because they themselves were the butt of the jokes, you were allowed to get away with a lot more."
Simon has spent the entire series chasing his childhood friend Carli, only to lose her at the start of the film. When he and his trio of roaming hard-ons end up on the same island as her for vacation, he takes it as a sign that he should continue his pursuit. Cue a return to their failed efforts to score with girls, make splashes in clubs and handle their liquor with any sort of grace at all. It's no wonder why a trail of expletives follows wherever they go.
"I think all of them to an extent use language to fill the gaps, because they never really get to do anything at all," Bird says with a laugh. "So everything they get out of an experience has to come out of the description afterwards, or the anticipation beforehand. So that’s why that’s all revved up by all this graphic swearing, but then, when you see what’s actually happening to them, it’s quite sad, really. It’s little boys who can’t really, no one’s really interested in them, and they can’t even get into places. So yeah, I always felt that my teenage years, were kind of like one damp squib after another."
Many of the most extreme curse words, and lothario boasts, come from the cocky pipsqueak character Jay, played by James Buckley, while Neil, the lanky lughead played by Blake Harrison, does most of the scoring -- but with large, 50-year-old women. You get the picture: Nothing goes these guys' way -- which, unfortunately, sometimes bleeds into real life. Especially for Thomas, whose hapless Simon engenders a little too much sympathy sometimes.
People are always winding me up," he laughs, though not without a hint of a sigh. "There is a certain amount of, I think we are because of the nature of the show, I was thrown into a river recently, by this complete stranger. He just kind of hugged me and bowled me over into the river, and then held on for quite a long time while we were under the water, so there was a bit of drowning stuff going as well. But I think that is not respect. The others might be more respected."
As for what the future holds for the series, they won't rule out reprising the roles, even if the writing team feels a bit burnt out right now. "There is some talk that we may end up doing another film, but again, that would be based on whether there’s another strong enough idea," Bird offered, no doubt sparking home amongst the youth of Britain.
Of course, with Bird now 28 and his co-stars not far behind him, the next episode may need to jump further into the future. What do they think that holds for them?
Will won't have a very exciting, notable life, Bird offers, while Thomas thinks Simon might run for Parliament. Then again, "I don’t think he’d succeed. He’s piss off too many people," he jokes.
Neil, they agree, would be the most successful -- accidentally. In fact, he has the most profound (or idiotic) line in the film, when he tells Simon "I stopped believing in god when I realized it was just dog backwards."
Says Harrison, "What’s funny is that I think that’s the most serious bit of the film. I don’t know why that’s not on the poster. That’s the crux. We really wanted to talk about the death or religion, but we went for the cheap laugh."
Email: Jordan.Zakarin@THR.com; Twitter: @JordanZakarin