Oh, the hilarious awkwardness of placing privileged white kids in a place where they don’t belong. The Inbetweeners takes the cinematic tradition of Anglo-Saxons vacationing in foreign lands where, gasp, locals don’t speak English—unless, that is, you speak to them reaaally slow—to new levels of crassness. Yet the age-old recipe remains intact with its homophobic dick jokes, white-men-can’t-dance-but-can-do-everything-else shtick, overdone comedy centered on bodily fluids, and the general scorning of fat girls and dwarfs. In this film, four nerdy 18-year-olds from the south of England, the self-denominated “Pussay Patrol,” take a trip to Malia, Greece, where they engage in a variety of naughty behaviors that would otherwise remain repressed in good old England—or limited to the relationship between their computer screens, masturbation gloves, and the salami slices used to simulate the insides of a vagina.
The Inbetweeners shares the ethos of other tales of bromantic group bonding through the relentless disdain for all things non-masculine, perhaps the most emblematic of which being The Hangover films. Its raw material is the kind of ignorance, vulgarity, and sexism (“I better not get stuck with a fat one”) we normally associate with Americans, at home and abroad, along with the slightly more self-aware notion that one of the consequences of privilege can often be a grotesque lack of ability to deal with difference—of the self and of others. That and the idea that, elsewhere, foreigners are as uncivilized as “we” are repressed, and thus, their sexuality is allowed to flow superego-free. They are perennially hot, horny, scantily clad, and easily available, sometimes even mastering “the art of self-fellation”—which gives “us” license to take advantage of such orgiastic paradise of uncultured souls.
The gags in the film range from tediously uninventive (stray pubes on a teenager’s cheek, spray tan poorly applied to the face) to gestures whose offensiveness are too familiar to disgust us (a teenager fingering a “cougar” on the dance floor, throwing a child who can’t swim into a swimming pool). The film is, at times, conscious, if not critical, of the crudeness of its nerdy characters—their way of overcompensating for their failure to achieve perfect hetero-masculinity. But instead of seeing the comedy in the curious fact that, while these boys take their heterosexuality so seriously, being with a (skinny, white, and blond) girl seems like the least favorite chore on the list of heterosexual mandates, it’s ultimately interested in a less threatening kind of failure. Yes, there’s something quite funny in that even the most suffocating British properness will always fail to completely hold in that sliver of indecency that outs us as humans (who fart, burp, and daydream of drowning annoying children, despite our best intentions), but there’s also something cowardly in the misogyny/xenophobia/ageism/homophobia (they, too, work in packs) that the film reproduces in its attempt to live up to its genre. While one could say the film is making fun of those malaises, not prescribing them, it inevitably does so by actively inciting them, without offering any fresh ideas as to how else we may deal with that which makes us barf precisely because it secretly doesn’t.