'The Festival': Film Review
The team behind British hit comedy franchise 'The Inbetweeners' stays well within their discomfort zone in this juvenile sex comedy.
The gross-out comedy is alive, if not quite kicking, in this cheerfully vulgar slapstick romp from the team behind Brit TV hit The Inbetweeners and its hugely successful spinoff movies. The first fruits of a new production company formed by the show’s creators, The Festival centers on the antics of a group of early twentysomething misfits as they attend one of the countless weekend music festivals that have come to dominate the British summer. Kicking off a four-picture deal with Film4 and Entertainment distribution, this is essentially a third Inbetweeners film in all but name, reuniting co-star Joe Thomas with director-producer Iain Morris.
Unashamedly formulaic and relentlessly puerile, The Festival is no better than it needs to be, which may be as much commercial calculation as artistic limitation. But judging by the record-breaking returns of the two Inbetweeners movies, this semi-sequel should do healthy business domestically, where it has just opened, with Europe and Australia likely to follow suit. Interest will be spotty in the U.S. and other markets where the TV show has little or no following, although an international ensemble cast that includes Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords), Claudia O'Doherty (Trainwreck), Hannah Tointon (Mr. Selfridge), Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead) and Kurt Yaeger (Sons of Anarchy) could widen its global appeal.
Sticking to the golden rule of not fixing what is not broken, Morris plays safe with cartoonishly exaggerated characters, zippy pacing, a soundtrack fizzing with contemporary dance-pop hits, plus endless boorish jokes about sex and drugs and overflowing toilets. Not exactly groundbreaking comedy, but Morris clearly knows his youthful audience demographic well, playing on their hang-ups as much as their aspirations. Much of the screenplay's humor derives from classic adolescent angst material such as peer group shaming, embarrassing parental over-sharing and clashes with adult authority figures.
Cast at least a decade younger than his 34 years, Thomas recycles his puppyish Inbetweeners persona as Nick, a genial loser who graduates from college and gets publicly dumped by his girlfriend Caitlin (Tointon) on the same day. Humiliated and heartbroken, he retreats to his suburban bedroom until best buddy Shane (Hammed Animashaun) stages an intervention with tickets to an unnamed music festival. Nick is reluctant to attend, fearing he will run into Caitlin. But Shane insists they both go, largely because he wants to meet his musical hero, the mask-wearing EDM superstar DJ Hammerhead (Noel Fielding).
Once the action moves to the festival site, the plot become an episodic parade of awkward social misunderstandings, messy sexual hook-ups, random nudity and accidental drug-taking. Inevitably, Nick bumps into Caitlin, Shane has a preposterous encounter with Hammerhead, and copious quantities of bodily fluid splash across the screen. Lowbrow humor is built into the film's DNA, of course, but the cumbersome dramatic machinery deployed to make these jokes function eventually feels tiresome. An erotic close encounter between a man and a goat, and a running gag about a dumb blonde who repeatedly fails to recognize Shane, both feel particularly labored.
For anybody over the age of 25, The Festival will have limited appeal, but it is not wholly without charm. There are adult-friendly asides here, including a sly homage to The Elephant Man and a running joke about Clement’s fellow Kiwi cultural icons, soft-rock balladeers Crowded House. In the grand tradition of the American Pie movies, this gleefully coarse comedy of contemporary juvenile manners is actually rather innocent and old-fashioned beneath its scatological surface, a gently mocking but ultimately flattering portrait of its target audience.