Just last week the 10th anniversary of the noughties teen movie, Mean Girls, was celebrated all over social media to the annoyance of those who despise the genre. So it seems fairly fitting that We Are The Freaks, the surreal and anarchic anti-teen British comedy is released on DVD shortly after. Unlike your average teen coming of age tale though, this won’t garner much of a following.
Set against the social and political turmoil of 1990s Thatcher’s England, We Are The Freaks revolves around three misfits, Jack (Jamie Blackley), Parsons (Mike Bailey) and Chunks (Sean Teale), who seek a night out to forget their usual problems, that it seems inevitable will end in disaster.
Jack wants to escape his boring bank job and is waiting to hear news about a grant that will enable him to attend university and become a writer. Parsons is a coward who’s failed all of his exams multiple times and lives under the claustrophobic strangle hold of his parents expectations. Then we have Chunks, a posh kid who has never had to want for anything, but wreaks whatever havoc he can to piss off his absentee divorced parents.
If you’re wondering why the film has been branded as an anti-teen movie at this point, you’re not alone. The characters on paper don’t appear to be anything particularly revolutionary, and the plot when written down sounds like every other teen comedy from the last 15 years.
Over the course of one evening, our trio and a cast of oddball characters that include Parson’s toff girlfriend Claire, the sociopathic Splodger who Chunks is babysitting for the night, and a deranged Irishman called Killer Colin, come to terms with their status as freaks. Not that any of them would admit to their own personal character development.
No, what sets We Are The Freaks apart is its ironic nostalgia. Jack’s dialogue often contradicts the action on screen for comedic affect – talking to camera about hating films that talk to camera – lamenting the existence of nostalgic coming of age tales that paint idealistic views of ‘a better time’. The filmmakers are refreshingly self aware. And yet the quirky styling of the narrative, which starts out so strong, somewhere along the way loses its charm. What we’re left with is a melancholy presentation of growing pains that feels exactly like the kind of film it’s trying desperately not to be.
The teen ‘comedy’ part is debatable in places too. Perhaps I’m the wrong audience for the humour here though. As someone born in the late eighties, I was below the age of ten in the period We Are The Freaks is set, and therefore was relatively unaffected by the social and political turmoil that disillusioned an entire generation. The only thing I have to reference back to is the alternative rock music of that decade, so many of the jokes go over my head. The surprise comic relief comes in the form of Mike Bailey‘s Parsons, but even genitalia gags, references to his cowardly nature and awkward reactions to bizarre situations have their limits.
We Are The Freaks is by no means a bad film. The performances are solid, the characters generally likable and it leaves you with a sense that there’s nothing wrong with settling for mediocre. I didn’t feel compelled to switch it off, and yet it felt like what The Inbetweeners Movie would have been if the creators had taken one episode at random and stuffed it full of irrelevant filler.
An easy watch, but ultimately will be forgotten.
We Are The Freaks is released on DVD 5th May 2014.