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Boys vs. Girls: Bachelorette and The Inbetweeners

by Ethan Alter September 7, 2012 6:00 am
Boys vs. Girls: <i>Bachelorette</i> and <I>The Inbetweeners</i>

The eternal battle of the sexes spills over into the multiplex this weekend, as two raunchy comedies -- one female-driven and one distinctly for the boys -- compete for moviegoers' attention. In one corner, you've got Bachelorette, the Bridesmaids-like ensemble piece about a trio of bridesmaids (triple threats Kirsten Dunst, Lizzy Caplan and Isla Fisher) who get up to a whole lot of trouble the night before their best friend's wedding. And in the other corner stands The Inbetweeners, the feature film version of the hit British sitcom about four horny high-school kids (Simon Bird, James Buckley, Joe Thomas and Blake Harrison, reprising their small-screen roles) who celebrate their graduation by going on an alcohol-fueled holiday to a sunny Mediterranean party town. So which movie does its gender proudest? Here's how they stack up in a few key areas.

The Stars
Bachelorette: Although it was originally written and performed as a play well before Bridesmaids came along, Bachelorette will inevitably and unavoidably be measured alongside last summer's blockbuster comedy and may be found wanting, particularly in the belly laughs department. But one area in which playwright-turned-filmmaker Leslye Headland's first feature matches and arguably exceeds its rival is in the performances of its three lead actresses, who more than make you forget about Kristen Wiig et al. Headland has smartly cast each of the three roles mostly to type, but leaves the performers room to show off different skills. So, for example, Caplan's badass bachelorette Gena has the same whip-smart sarcasm we remember from her starmaking role on Party Down, but there's also a vulnerability and barely-suppressed self-loathing present in her performances that's new and compelling. The same unhappiness runs underneath Fisher's otherwise bubbly turn as bodacious (if brain-challenged) aging prom queen Katie, who is only truly comfortable when she's well on her way to getting epically shit-faced. And last but not least there's Dunst, who does some of her best work to date as the ruthlessly efficient Maid of Honor, Regan. Dunst doesn't do straight comedies often (unless you count Spider-Man 3), which is a real shame because she's got terrific timing and instinctively knows how to score laughs without having to always dominate the scene. (She's also not afraid to be entirely unlikable when the scene requires it.) In the midst of a wacky wedding comedy, these actresses are giving fleshed-out, three-dimensional performances and that's something to celebrate.
The Inbetweeners: Let's be honest: even on the series, the Inbetweeners lads were never great actors. But they were perfectly cast as their respective high school types: the geek, Will (Bird); the weirdo, Neil (Harrison); the jerk, Jay (Buckley); and the almost-normal one, Simon (Thomas). The movie version calls upon the quartet to do little more than the same shtick and they rise to the occasion, displaying the same kind of camaraderie and go-for-it attitude that made them so much fun to watch on the telly. Individually, they're passable performers but together they are mighty.
Winner: Bachelorette

The Story
Bachelorette: Taking place largely within a 24-hour span of time, the events of Bachelorette are set in motion when the Regan, Gena and Katie -- high on a mixture of alcohol, cocaine and resentment -- start messing around with the bride's dress and wind up tearing it, which leads them to dash out into the New York night desperately in search of a quick fix. Their journey takes them from a bridal store into a strip club (where they meet the three dudes they'll be partnered off with -- more on them later) before sending the three off in separate directions, reconnecting at the bridal suite the morning after, having learned a few lessons, laughed a few laughs and even shed a few tears. It's nothing revolutionary, but Headland tells it well, awarding each character the right amount of screentime and keeping the overall proceedings clipping along nicely without having to resort to such time-killing narrative devices as musical montages to pad the narrative out... as a certain guy comedy does.
The Inbetweeners: As hinted at above, The Inbetweeners includes not just one, but three musical montages during the course of its 96-minute runtime, a sure sign that writers Iain Morris and Damon Beesley (who created the show) and director Ben Palmer (who directed a number of episodes) kept coming in a bit short during their initial passes in the editing room. The plot itself is as familiar as the one that drives Bachleorette; having traveled to this exotic locale, the gang gets caught up in a variety of misadventures -- ranging from a poolside fracas to failed attempts at scoring fit birds -- that tests their bond of friendship. And in a development straight out of The Chipmunk Adventure, the blokes keep crossing paths with four female versions of themselves (call them the Inbetweenettes) who are initially at the root of and eventually become the solution to their petty personal dramas.
Winner: Bachelorette

The Opposite Sex
Bachelorette: For the most part, men are kept to the periphery throughout Bachelorette, allowing Headland's screenplay to easily pass the Bechdel test. Inevitably though, each of the three women is paired off with the man that complements her. The supposedly engaged Regan, for instance, winds up engaging in some bathroom nookie with alpha male type Trevor (James Marsden), who matches her snarl for snarl. Meanwhile, Katie falls into the tender clutches of never-been-kissed dork Joe (Kyle Bornheimer), who carried a torch for her back in high school and is still enough of a stand-up guy to not take advantage of a girl that's about to pass out. As for Gena, she's thrown back together with her ex Clyde (Adam Scott, whose presences allows for the Party Down reunion we've all dreamed of), a nice guy who made one very, very stupid decision that precipitated their break-up. As written, these characters are as flat and uninteresting as the female love interests in any bromantic comedy (which is oddly appropriate in a way), so it's up to the actors to make them palatable. Fortunately, casting saves the day yet again; for obvious reason, the Scott/Caplan pairing is the most enjoyable, but Marsden is a hoot playing a foul-mouthed version of his egomaniacal cartoon prince from Enchanted and Bornheimer comes across as a less irritating Kevin James.
The Inbetweeners: One of the running jokes in The Inbetweeners is that the guys are forever chasing girls who are well above their social station and on the extremely rare occasion when they actually nab one of them, they invariably screw it up. This is repeated in the movie version through Will's seemingly doomed pursuit of Alison -- the impossibly gorgeous leader of the Inbetweenettes -- only this time with the happier (and exceptionally unlikely) ending of her returning his affections. Their respective pals also pass through various trials to eventually find happiness with each other. The image-conscious Jay, for example, fights his obvious attraction to slightly plus-sized beauty Jane (Lydia Rose Bewley), while Neil's eye for older women initially prevents him from hooking up with Lisa (Jessica Knappett), the one person on Earth odder than he is. As for Simon, he repeatedly subjects his designated significant other/doormat Lucy (Tamla Kari) to lamentations about lost love -- his previous girlfriend Carli having broken up with him at the start of the film -- before finally realizing that this new girl in his life is pretty great too. (Why Lucy continues to spend time with this thoughtless dick is a question the movie never satisfactorily answers.) Treating the love interests as obligatory plot devices is something that The Inbetweeners and Bachelorette both have very much in common.
Winner: Tie

The Raunch
Bachelorette: Headland's script doesn't require any nudity on behalf of its leading ladies (or men, for that matter) and she also avoids broad gross-out gags, like the infamous diarrhea sequence from Bridesmaids. On the other hand, the movie more than earns its R-rating due to language alone, with Dunst in particular dropping F-bombs like she's auditioning for a Mamet play. If you like your raunch heard and not seen, Bachelorette is the movie for you.
The Inbetweeners: During the course of the series, it seemed like each of the boys bared their butts at one point or another and the movie ups the ante by having at least two of them come thisclose to full frontal nudity, with only a strategically placed hand between them and an NC-17 rating. And where the show could only hint at the destructive power of Neil's Number 2's, the film version shows one of them in all its revolting glory. Add onto the characters' steady stream of sex chatter ("Minge!") that fans know and love from the small-screen version and you've got a movie that's exactly as raunchy as it wants to be.
Winner: The Inbetweeners

The Laughs
Bachelorette: Considering its cast and premise, one would expect Bachlorette to deliver a lot more chuckles than it actually does. There are some funny moments to be found here, but the overall mood is noticeably sour and mean-spirited. And that's completely by design; for much of the film, Headland isn't particularly concerned with having you root for -- or even sympathize with -- her three heroines (unlike Bridesmaids, where you were intended to feel for Wiig even when she was acting like a brat), who are repeatedly shown to be selfish, self-absorbed individuals; in fact, many of the best jokes throughout are at their expense. Much like Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody's recent (and, it must be said, significantly superior) Young Adult, Bachelorette aims to explore the psychology of entitlement and how it can transform a seemingly ordinary person into a monster. But where Young Adult never lets its central character off the hook for her behavior, Headland can't bring herself to go the distance, writing happy endings for each of the three women that offer them partial, if not complete, redemption. Before it loses its nerve though, Bachelorette makes a valiant attempt to take the traditional wedding comedy into darker territory. Just don't expect to laugh out loud very much.
The Inbetweeners: If Headland has more serious aspirations in mind, Morris, Beesley and Palmer are only interested in making viewers crack up early and often. For obvious reasons, they haven't messed too much with the classic Inbetweeners formula in bringing the series to the big screen, still basing much of the humor around the characters' self-delusion and their inevitable humiliation. So if you found the show hysterical, chances are good that you'll be laughing like a loon throughout the movie as well. All of the guys get at least one moment to shine, but the most reliable source of laughs has to be Neil, who is so delightfully weird here that he manages to crack you up even when he's just standing in the background. The Inbetweeners isn't especially deep (and, it must be said, the movie bogs down whenever it tiptoes into more dramatic territory), but it is very, very funny.
Winner: The Inbetweeners

The Winner: Tie. It may be a cop out, but we're not going to pick sides in this particular gender war. Let's just say that The Inbetweeners is the funnier of the two movies, while Bachelorette is the more complex (and better acted) and both are equally worth your time.

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