As a go-abroad sequel to a go-abroad spin-off, The Inbetweeners 2 looked doomed to failure. Its tackily self-referential teaser trailer (“Fire wankers!”) prepared us for a catchphrasey, regressive trudge over the same old ground. The result is cringeworthy. But not in the way you might expect.
Watching the first film was an oddly comfortable experience. The situations may have been extreme and the swearing inventive, but they felt plagiarised from the TV series, awkwardly bloated when stretched onto the big screen. The writers seemed to assume that fans would laugh at the word ‘clunge’ because saying ‘clunge’ was funny in season two.
The second feels like more of a risk. It’s less quotable, for one thing, and there are moments of genuine tenderness and feeling – the show’s “Morning, benders” machismo has always been transparently hollow, but the sequel allows us to see through this self-conscious swagger to the insecurities and sadness of the adolescent.
This is balanced, naturally and rightly, with moments of excruciating crudity. In one scene set in a water park, Will (Simon Bird) is chased down a water slide by a shit. He gets caught. His bespattered face and spectacles, crestfallen and vomiting, fill one half of the screen, while a terrified stampede of fleeing tourists occupies the other.
This is a powerful scene. No, really. It’s a defining moment for the unspontaneous, pseudo-intellectual Will of this film, a lonely university fresher who seems lost without the reassuring superiority he has always felt over his friends. In desperation, he has accompanied them to Australia, and receives unlikely attention from his prep-school sweetheart, Katie (Emily Berrington). In his search for self-assurance, he neglects his friends, pretends to like his enemies, starts using ‘man’ as a greeting. His principles are suspended and his manners contrived; her affection is all he has left. The shit in the water park is therefore a strangely uplifting counterpoint to this pretension, casting him ingloriously back to earth. And that’s how a poo-covered, vomiting fresher, played by a 30-year old actor, in a sequel to a film that should probably never have been made in the first place, can be the hilarious and tragic, unwatchable and irresistible hero of a compelling moment of cinema.
This combination of vulgarity and feeling is effective, but it isn’t sustained. If Will is well-observed and likeable, the supporting characters are largely one-dimensional: lazy, gap-yah stereotypes; beer-swilling, misogynistic Australians; backgroundless, unlikeable women. The absence of interesting female characters is particularly disappointing in a film that’s otherwise surprisingly culturally literate (no, really).
But then again, The Inbetweeners 2 was never trying to be a perfect or a polished film, and nor should it. Its low-budget, sixth-form common room roughness has always been at the centre of its charm. And there are lots of jokes. And most of them are really funny.