By Hugo Harris
As soon as the credits rolled on The Bad Education Movie, I stood up, left the cinema and got on with my day, not reflective, nor irate at my experience, but merely holding a sense of profound indifference.
To explain such remarks it is important to emphasise that the adjectives which best encapsulate The Bad Education Movie – a diverting though clichéd and juvenile picture – could similarly describe The Inbetweeners Movie. Not only are both films derived from their respective cult TV shows, but both indulge heavily in puerile obscenities. If you still have a deep yearning to see ‘lads’ make fools of themselves away from home after The Inbetweeners Movie, you’ll be glad to know that Alfie Wickers, Jack Whitehall’s vehicle in this action-comedy flick, suffers comparable humiliation during a school trip to Cornwall.
Yet, despite these near-identical tropes, The Inbetweeners Movie captured the zeitgeist of its generation and recorded the biggest opening weekend for a comedy in the UK. Whitehall’s first foray onto the silver screen has failed to conjure the same magic.
Part of the problem for The Bad Education Movie is the limitations imposed by its own source material. In channelling the part of bumbling, naïve and dysfunctional school teacher, Whitehall remains likeable and witty. The three-time King of British Comedy certainly has the presence and comic timing necessary to lead such a film.
However, the student/class dynamic underlining this BBC Three adaptation ensures, for all the cast’s talents, that most of its interactions feel forced and uninspired. There are only seven pupils in ‘Class K’ (a conveniently low figure for a state-school) but writers still feel it necessary to confront their audience with a parade of classroom stereotypes. Check bright, nerdy Chinese schoolgirl. Check overweight but affable do-gooder. Check magic-mushroom supplying youth – the list goes on. If these characters had any nuance their actions would be less predictable and more amusing.
Returning to The Inbetweeners Movie, for all of Jay’s outlandish claims in that film, it is the character’s vulnerable centre that eventually reveals itself to be the ripe fodder for some particularly pointed hilarity. In allocating precious screen-time to a mediocre subplot concerning overly-coercive parents, there isn’t enough space for Whitehall to weave a well put-together series of jokes around his pupils’ personas.
It is no surprise that some of The Bad Education Movie’s best moments are contained within its more absurdist scenes. The sight of Iain Glen, an actor renowned for his very earnest performances in Game of Thrones, leading the vanguard of a Cornish Liberation Army is really a sight to behold, while Mathew Horne’s crazed head teacher enjoys some of the script’s best quips.
However, for every joke that musters a chuckle, there is another that results in silent bewilderment. The only prolonged spell of enjoyable farce comes when Alfie Wickers stumbles upon a former public school buddy portrayed by Jeremy Irvine. The scene confirms the old adage that you should write about what you know. As an Old Malburian who, rather famously, was a contemporary of Robert Pattinson, Whitehall is best placed to raise levels of posh silliness that might hit a nerve with some Durham students. Anyone actually played the game ‘pube or dare’?
But when the climax of Whitehall’s ‘Magnum Opus’ necessitates a return to banal one-liners – Alfie cries ‘Freeeedoooom’ and roars ‘This is Cornwall’ – any momentum garnered stalls. This film might lampoon memories of Sparta in 300 and satirise a bellowing Mel Gibson in Braveheart but hasn’t this ground been covered before? If anything can be learnt from this muddle, it is that a bad education might help you appreciate The Bad Education Movie more.