Anyone who felt that Kenneth Branagh’s 1992 luvvie-fest Peter’s Friends could have been improved by drugs, guns and an axe-wielding maniac will fall with relief on the comedy-thriller All My Friends Hate Me. Both pictures concern a middle-class Brit named Peter – or Pete, in the new film – enjoying a wild weekend at a country pile with old university pals. Or not enjoying, in the case of Pete (Tom Stourton), who is celebrating his 31st birthday when he starts to suspect… well, let me refer you back to the film’s title.
Pete is in high spirits as he screeches into the courtyard, music blaring from his car stereo, Champagne in hand, only to find that there is no one there to greet him. When the gang finally arrives –among them the eternally chipper George (Joshua McGuire), Pete’s ex-girlfriend Claire (Antonia Clarke), and the louche, loutish Archie (Graham Dickson) – their mood is upbeat, though no one seems excessively thrilled to see him, and there is a restless, discomfiting quality to their small-talk.
Matters are complicated by Harry (Dustin Demri-Burns), a “randomer” picked up by the group at a nearby pub, whom everyone except Pete seems to regard as the consummate joker. He is first seen in sinister slow-motion brandishing a live goose. As the weekend wears on, and Harry’s behaviour towards the birthday boy turns prickly, that choice of bird begins to seem symbolic. Whose goose will be cooked?
[See also: Alex Garland’s Men is a thesis on misogyny, masquerading as a movie]
If the post-university get-together echoes Branagh’s movie, the antagonist’s name calls to mind Hitchcock’s The Trouble with Harry, another tale of rural mayhem, and Dominik Moll’s expert Hitchcockian thriller Harry, He’s Here to Help, which features its own cuckoo-like outsider infiltrating a family in the Auvergne.
Andrew Gaynord’s film, written by Stourton and Tom Palmer, adds to that mix some crisply British elements, such as an extreme sensitivity to class, as well as some universal ones, including the tension in postgraduate friendships between maintaining the status quo and moving on. That struggle is personified by Pete, who has buried the reprobate of yore in favour of a more enlightened self. His repeated mentions of working with refugees take virtue signalling to the level of sky-writing.
Consorting with friends who remember the old Pete is bound to make things tricky for the new model. The opening montage, showing him driving through the countryside, hints at this conflict, with two separate overhead shots dissolving into each other so that a single road appears to branch in opposing directions; it suggests a split personality, a path not taken, or simply the distance between Pete and the person he’d love to be. As he gets increasingly rattled by Harry, and becomes convinced that his own posse is turning against him, his ideal self – the laidback one who leaves several buttons undone for maximum nonchalance – starts melting like a snowman in a sauna.
The film’s lively cast has been cherry-picked from up-and-comers of stage and TV comedy. Stourton and Demri-Burns were regulars on the genius sitcom Stath Lets Flats (Gaynord directed its most recent series). Charly Clive, who plays Pete’s girlfriend Sonia, is one half of the comic duo Britney; Kieran Hodgson, seen here as a shifty local, has performed virtuoso one-man shows about Lance Armstrong and Brexit; and Dickson is a founder member of the gifted improvisatory troupe Austentatious, who rustle up Jane Austen-themed plays based on titles suggested by the audience – “Strictly Come Darcy”, “Northanger Rabbi”, “Mansfield Shark”.
Given this pedigree, All My Friends Hate Me should have been funnier. Instead, it settles for moderate amusement and vague dread, falling between those two stools of comedy and horror, Withnail & I and Straw Dogs. It is at its strongest on the topic of class tensions, and the revelation that Pete is every bit as snobbish as his chums. You can put the boy in the refugee camp, but you can’t tear the silver spoon from his mouth.
Most of the male characters get a memorable piece of foot-in-mouth dialogue or goofy slapstick, though there is no such luxury for the women, who are disappointingly well-behaved and underwritten. There is also a crucial failure of nerve in the final scenes. What should have been a killer climax ends up pulling its punches and petering out. All My Friends Hate Me is a decent film but everyone involved can make a better one. I look forward to that.
“All My Friends Hate Me” is in cinemas now
[See also: Bergman Island seems intolerably meta – but it’s not just for cinephiles]
This article appears in the 08 Jun 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Marked Man