Dir: Iain Morris; Starring: Joe Thomas, Hammed Animashaun, Claudia O’Doherty, Hannah Tointon, Kurt Yaeger, Hugh Coles, Emma Rigby, Jemaine Clement. 15 cert, 98 mins.
Here is the biggest hitch with a hit high school comedy: there are only so many sequels you can get away with before your stars age out.
Such was the fate of the Inbetweeners franchise: 2011’s The Inbetweeners Movie and its 2014 follow-up might have taken £100 million combined, which under any other circumstances would have signalled a trilogy at least.
But you can’t tell another story about the low-key excruciations of English teenage life when your core cast have hit their mid-30s.
So think of The Festival as a valiant attempt to keep the baton, and presumably also the money, moving.
It stars The Inbetweeners’ Joe Thomas as a drippy and freshly single graduate, is directed by Iain Morris, who created the show with Damon Beesley, and could almost be a post-uni catch-up with Thomas’s permanently lovelorn Simon, three years older but none the wiser when it comes to sensing when his chances of romance are less than zip.
The only obvious difference is that his character’s name this time is Nick.
Recently ditched by his girlfriend Caitlin (Hannah Tointon), Nick considers abandoning their summer plan to visit a music festival with her friends.
But he’s convinced by best pal Shane (Hammed Animashaun) to stay the course: what better place to get over your uni sweetheart than a field full of young revellers in various states of inebriation and/or undress?
Nick concedes the point, but soon shifts into wet blanket mode – particularly when he and Shane meet perky festival die-hard Amy (Claudia O’Doherty) en route, who has endless anecdotes to share, along with her Tupperware box of “chaffney”, a home-made grey sustaining mulch.
On site, Nick does his best to not enjoy himself, and suffers a string of largely self-inflicted humiliations as a result. But he learns to make the best of it, as the realisation slowly dawns – in a very British downbeat spin on the coming-of-age format – that he isn’t the centre of anyone’s universe but his.
It’s testament to Thomas’s appeal as a comic actor that he can make you root for such a grumbling dweeb, and to the skill of writers Keith Akushie and Joe Parham that his long weekend of elaborate misery doesn’t start to feel draining or repetitive.
The jokes are consistently funny, if not exactly densely packed, and you sense a few of the good ideas here could have been worked a little harder.
There are a couple of gross-out set-pieces, one involving a piercing, another a wayward bodily fluid, that work nicely as they are, but whose full trauma-inducing potential goes unrealised.
But Morris has a good feel for this highly class-attuned comedic milieu – he understands the intrinsic amusement value of a five-point turn in a suburban cul-de-sac – and has a cast on his wavelength, from the endlessly droll O’Doherty, who could (and does) make listing supermarkets amusing, to Flight of the Conchords’ Jemaine Clement as Shane’s stepfather Robin, who is agonisingly well-meaning and a little too supportive for comfort.
And Emma Rigby, as a nameless hen party member dressed as a Smurf, shares with Thomas the film’s best sequence – a fantastically daft hallucinated aside that stands as a perfectly formed comic short in its own right.
There is something inescapably in-between-y about The Festival, as well as Inbetweener-y: it’s never less than fun, but feels like the kind of film that happens before the next great idea strikes. But for late summer silliness, it scratches an itch.