It's hard to fathom the British film industry.
A fairly disappointing big-screen version of The Inbetweeners, a great telly comedy for three series about four misfit high school mates will do boffo domestic box office (record-setting for a British comedy), but the indie works of art that get screened at the London Film Festival are hardly seen anywhere else.
Thirteen months after it took the British box office by storm, The Inbetweeners movie opened this month with a limited theatrical release in the States (two screens in Manhattan), coinciding with an MTV American version of the TV show.
Firstly, the British TV series, which made it to the usually clueless BBC America, works if you're into sophomoric humour about male teens' obsessions with the opposite sex. That undercurrent runs through every episode on the surface. But dig deeper, there's a fascinating dynamic about how friendships form during adolescence. This quartet is composed of four individuals who really have nothing in common with each other.
You have the ultra-nerd Will, who carries a briefcase and behaves as if he's in an MBA program. His "friends" aren't nearly as ambitious. Jay is a bit of a bully and a complete sexist who is a womaniser only in his dreams and Internet porn relationships. Simon appears to be the most normal and presentable, except when he's not talking incessantly about his sort-of girlfriend Carly, who doesn't seem to completely reciprocate his affections. Neil is a gawky dumb jock, an uninhibited dancer with not much going on upstairs.
Why did they bond? Who else would have them? Hence, the title of the series.
This isn't exactly new territory for Britcoms. In the mid-1980s, The Young Ones' similarly poorly matched four flat mates purportedly attended college. Despite a few years older, they were just as antisocial and awkward with women.
So that's the framework. The original Inbetweeners TV show is extremely funny because of the chemistry among the four characters and actors. Will pulls off classic Woody Allen-worthy male anxiety. That cerebral cleverness - he has a hard time censoring his thoughts - is propelled by excellent comedy writing.
The best line in the film when an attractive young woman says to Will. "You're not normal, are you?" Will has to agree. Unfortunately, those moments are far and few between, and generally The Inbetweeners doesn't fare as well on the big screen.
The franchise's failure to make the cinematic leap might have something to do with a TV show like this falling into the 'guilty pleasure' category. It's hard to resist stuff that no responsible adult should find funny as long as it's delivered in small doses.
Once catapulted to full-length status, the script better be crack all the way through, and unfortunately the movie doesn't have the crispness of the half-hour episodes that lack the awkward transitions between scenes that plagued the movie, which occasionally is boring and predictable. The plot revolves around the boys' post-graduation holiday to a Greek island, and their pathetic attempts to get laid. Midway through, there's some reflection of what's going wrong, how they're getting on each other's nerves, and finally some redemption.
Watching the first three MTV episodes of the American version, let's just say that this is one show that has not crossed the ocean successfully, unlike last year's Skins, the high school drama that MTV unfortunately gave up on prematurely, despite having six more British seasons to tap. The Inbetweeners' failure to catch fire in the US might be commerce driven, and underscores the vast difference between the US and UK television industries. Yank cable networks don't hesitate to pull the plug if ratings fall short.
The scripts between the US and UK shows are nearly identical, but to no avail. Perhaps the biggest problem is poor casting. While the UK version couples four seemingly incompatible individuals, they somehow find a common ground. The supposed US pals are not believable on any level.
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