The Inbetweeners 2 is a send-off that encompasses the best and worst and the franchise.
by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)
If ever there was an utterly unnecessary comedy sequel, The Inbetweeners 2 is most certainly it. Fact of the matter is that this series was done. Twice, first in that wonderfully melancholy and ambiguous TV ending and then in a giant blow-out film ending that gave the cast the send-offs that, in the moment considering the attachment many people would have had to them, it felt like they deserved. The book was closed, it was done, they made three fantastic series of television and a surprisingly great film, they all got out before they had a chance of hitting a bum note, and everyone involved was free to pursue careers of having to have “with [x] from The Inbetweeners” forcibly suffixed to everything they do. As per usual, though, money meant that the tale wasn’t quite over just yet and so everybody has been drawn back in for one last go-around even though there really doesn’t need to be one.
Consequently, The Inbetweeners 2 feels like a gratuitous victory lap more than anything else, something that’s especially pointless seeing as The Inbetweeners Movie was basically a victory lap as well, and a timelier one at that. It doesn’t really need to exist, even as it tries desperately hard to adequately justify reasons for doing so (which it only just sort of does, but we’ll get to that). It brings back pretty much all of the staples of the franchise (extended cringe humour, gross-out moments, cruelty, line-crossing, a not-100%-great attitude towards women) and ratchets everything up to 11, as if everyone involved knows that the money is all-but assured so why not go for broke? The result ends up encompassing the best and worst of the series in one neat little package that is vastly inferior to the original yet is not without merit or enjoyment.
We are six months on from the ending of the first film and the post-Malia lives of our cast haven’t exactly been brimming with good times. Will (Simon Bird) has transferred his complete lack of social skills in sixth-form to university, Simon (Joe Thomas) is similarly friendless at uni and Lucy (Tamala Kari), the holiday girlfriend he transferred universities to be closer to, has turned out to be a bit emotionally unstable, Jay (James Buckley) is taking a gap year in Australia and is bullshitting severely to the rest of the group to hide the fact that his life has been a mess ever since Jane dumped him, and Neal (Blake Harrison) is… actually, I have no idea what’s happening with Neal but he hasn’t progressed mentally, if nothing else. Over Easter break, Will, Simon and Neal decide to surprise Jay by heading over to Australia to see him, where Will bumps into an old junior school friend who may or may not be into him (Emily Berrington), Simon accidentally ends up deeply committed to Lucy, and Jay decides to finally hunt down Jane and try and get her to take him back.
I’m going to get this out of the way first, because it makes a pretty good segway from the prior synopsis, The Inbetweeners 2 isn’t wholly brilliant towards women. See, in the show, the women that the boys try going after are often depicted as above them for the most part. Like, yeah, sometimes there are some who just lead the guys on or who aren’t the nicest of people but those are the minority. The series, for the most part, made the boys the butts of the jokes as their being terrible people screwed up their chances with otherwise good women. This is why a fair few people were, to put it lightly, mildly disappointed with the characterisation 180 that the first movie did to Carli. 2 continues that trend and ploughs full steam-ahead on it; all of the boys, barring Simon, got dumped between films, Will’s old friend Katie is shown at nearly all-times to be a tease who is leading him on, and Lucy has suddenly turned into an extremely clingy jealous girlfriend who nags at Simon like an old fishwife, obsessively stalks his Facebook, and frequently takes a pair of scissors to his hoodies.
Jane only appears at the very end for about five seconds and is then duly removed from the picture, so that makes the only women featured in the film negative stereotypes that are bad for the boys. It’s a little bit uncomfortable, especially because the film can’t fully decide if it sympathises with the boys or if it wants to see them suffer because they’re not exactly great people. The show always seemed to have a lock on how it wanted to treat the boys (realising that they’re terrible people, but still having some compassion for the bond that they share), but this film doesn’t seem completely sure and that makes the treatment of the female characters seem more than a bit accidentally uncomfortable, again especially since the search for Jane drives the entire second half of the movie and her summary dismissal after she has been found reduces her character to simply a MacGuffin for Jay. I realise that the film’s viewpoint is that of four teenage boys, but, again, the film still can’t quite decide whether it sympathises with them or wants to ride and flog them for all it’s worth.
But, eh, that’s a personal hang-up that most people probably won’t notice or care about. There are other, more general hang-ups that I imagine other people will share, like how the film quite often over-steps the line of various kinds. It’s never enough to just have Neil have an upset stomach when at the top of a water slide, he also has to have the shits too, and have the scene end with Will vomiting profusely everywhere (I shan’t divulge how we get there because, right up until the vomiting, it’s actually one of the film’s bigger laughs). It’s never enough to just have Will awkwardly embarrass himself in front of Katie by trying way too hard, he has to also sing a slow song on guitar in ill-fitting falsetto, with that song running for a whole two minutes and it turning from “cringeworthily funny” to “just plain cringeworthy” after the first minute. It’s not enough to have Jay’s bullshitting email visualised on-screen in a manner that calls to mind The Wolf Of Wall Street, it has to be done in full, long after the joke stops being funny, and to have the characters lampshade how unnecessarily long it is after the fact. It’s a problem the first film ran into at points, going too far across lines of grossness, cringe or joke length, and it’s only exacerbated here, likely because it’s a film and, therefore, there was no reason for anyone to drag writer-directors Damon Beesley and Iain Morris away from the type-writers and scold them with a firm “NO!” before they could script a scene in which Jay masturbates in the bed next to Will’s over something I don’t plan on spoiling here because, in an inverse to the water slide bit, the pay-off is absolutely worth the awkward construction.
On that note, the film’s also a bit too long. I know, I know, it’s only 98 minutes, but the film is still structured like an episode of the show and what’s excellently paced over 22 minutes can drag and feel a bit aimless when stretched out. The jokes-per-minute ratio is consistent, but it still drags in spots and, at about the 70-odd minute mark, when the film starts getting really good, I was ready for it to be over. Also, it still can’t quite shake off the feeling that everyone’s only back here for the money. Very rarely did the film offer up a scene or comedic setpiece that I felt truly justified everybody returning for one last hurrah. At its best, The Inbetweeners filters its laughs and heart through painful, painful reality and those kinds do appear (in particular, Will’s attempts to appear cool to Katie’s douchebag friends and the brief glimpse we get at his sad, lonely university life hit rather close-to-home for me) but they’re much rarer this time, the film being more content to just showcase Neal’s genitalia (which a dog then licks because, again, nobody seemed to ever say no to anything in this script) than coming up with more of those.
So, having spent all of this time criticising the film, there still remains one set of questions unanswered. The big ones. The only ones that most of you care about. Is The Inbetweeners 2 funny? Did I laugh? After all, I have mentioned multiple times before that I am willing to overlook more problematic undertones if the actual comedy on display is funny, to the point where I really should just put my money where my mouth is already. Well, I’ve made you wait this long, so I’m just going to give it to you straight…
Yes, I laughed a lot at The Inbetweeners 2.
As much as in the first film? No. As much as in the show’s best episodes? Probably, yes, but only because this runs for just over the length of four straight episodes of the show. I should stress right now that it is not as funny as either the last film or the TV show… but I did laugh, a heck of a lot, more so than at any non-22 Jump Street comedy released so far this year. Appropriate lip service is paid to the usual Inbetweeners running gags like Neal’s dad possibly being gay, Jay’s seemingly endless euphemisms for sex (played this time as him becoming very insecure after Jane dumped him), seemingly everybody having a crush on Will’s mum (which gets an incredible payoff in the finale that I will not spoil no matter how much you beg) and Neal’s complete and total inability to function in society. The new stuff, meanwhile, when not overstepping the line, is often excellent and, as previously mentioned, gags come at a very consistently quick pace, for the most part. The one time that the film slows down is during a scene just before the finale that, to put it bluntly, is like the end of the bit on the pier in Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa but without the gags and lampshade hanging. And, yes, the reason why I am being very vague regarding the jokes, and why it took me so long to getting around to talking about them, is because I don’t fancy spoiling them. What else can I say? If I found a film really funny, I’m not about to go about telling you about the funny jokes when I can just leave you to see the film for yourself to find out, am I?
One other thing the film has going for it is its ending, in that it’s sudden, kind of open, a little bit unsatisfying, leaves none of our characters much better off than when they started, and, quite honestly, is the absolute most perfect send-off for this franchise possible. Look, not to disparage The Inbetweeners Movie, but its ending basically gave its characters everything they wanted; relative social popularity, happy memories, and girlfriends. Except that it’s not really what they deserve. Let’s not forget, these four are all, in their own ways, terrible, selfish people and giving them what they wanted, whilst satisfying for those of us who saw some of ourselves in each of the characters, isn’t really what they deserve and rather contrary to the down-to-earth relatively-realist nature of the show. Conversely, The Inbetweeners 2 gives the cast what they deserve without coming off as overly-cruel in doing so, it being a nice mixture of disappointment, failure, underwhelming but the realisation that they still have each other over everything else. Like, hey, the holiday may have been a complete failure, but at least we’re still friends, followed by one last cuing up of the instrumental version of “Gone Up In Flames” by Morning Runner. That, I feel anyway, is the ending that the series deserves, the one that, in hindsight, it should have delivered the first time, and it nearly manages to justify this last venture. Not quite, but almost.
So, it’s a bit too long, poorly serves its female cast members, goes too far a bit too often, and can’t quite shake the feeling that this didn’t really need to exist. It’s not as good as any of the show’s three seasons, and it’s not as good as the first film. But The Inbetweeners 2 is funny, it’s very funny, its cast is still of a ridiculously high-calibre (not that you needed me to tell you that, they can pretty much play their roles in their sleep by this point) and it provides the perfect send-off to the series as a whole. For a lot of people, that will be enough. In a way, it is. It’s undoubtedly the weakest thing that the UK Inbetweeners have ever put out, but I came away feeling pretty damn satisfied. It’s good enough.
Just, please, stop now. Reject any extra money that is dangled in front of your faces and stop now. While you’re still ahead.
Callum Petch knows that the emperor wears no clothes. Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!