The old Nirvana song and even older joke “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re NOT out to get you” comes to life in “All My Friends Hate Me,” a dark cringe of a comedy direct from the UK.
College friends gather for a friend’s birthday, and the birthday boy Pete starts to get the feeling that A) they’ve never grown up, B) they’ve all turned against him and C) some “stranger” they’ve added to their ranks, a bloke they met “down’tha’pub,” is behind it.
They’re a posh crowd, but Pete (Tom Stourton, who co-wrote this) has moved on to a life of working with refugees for a non-profit, traveling the world doing good. He lets that fact drop a tad too often as his friends gather at the family estate of George (Joshua McGuire), with George’s girlfriend-since-college Fig (Georgina Campbell), the snooty, snorting snob Archie (Graham Dickson), and Pete’s fragile one-time artist girlfriend Claire (Antonia Clarke).
Pete is nervous about them meeting Sofia (Charly Clive), whom he lets slip he’s going to propose to. He’s been rattled by the drive up to Cleve Manor thanks to a random run-in with a homeless man, the man’s whimpering dog, and a “colorful” old local who gets cute and cagey about giving directions. Arriving alone — Sofia is coming later — with no sign of the others, for hours, also throws him off.
And he is really put-out about this tipsy, tactless lout Harry (Dustin Demri-Burns), who stumbles back with the others, who’ve been pubbing, who is anxious to meet the guy the others described as “apparently one of the funniest guys on the planet,” and who proceeds to test, tease, and provoke Pete at every turn.
Harry’s needling seems to encourage the others, one by one, to up the ante in their own poking and joking with Pete abouthis righteous job, which “makes up for past crimes,” about him not actually being “invited” to his own birthday party, his rising paranoia (pranks with weapons) and his reluctance to play along with every fresh insult, afront and pointed jab.
Has Harry got into his head, or into the head of the others? Is this some serious mass gaslighting, or is Pete off his meds? Which he is sure Harry has stolen from him?
Stourton (“The Spy Who Dumped Me”) makes a depressingly relatable Mr. Put-Upon, with a hapless humorlessness that makes that “one of the funniest guys on the planet” the biggest insult of all.
Tricks of memory, petty put-downs and accusations pile up on this out-of-place guest-of-honor, and Stourton’s Pete wears them like sackcloth and ashes.
Demri-Burns, also in “The Spy Who Dumped Me,” and “Alan Partridge,” utterly inhabits that “fun drunk” who can hold his liquor and never lets it get in the way of his bullying. He smirks, winks, undercuts and suggests a guy everybody underestimates and no one should.
Dickson makes his mark as the indulged, privileged poshest of the posh, “dressing for dinner” and mocking the idea of some “random pez (peasant)” interfering with a good time.
And Campbell is the embodiment of the great beauty who paired up with a richest lad, doubly-entitling her to be Pete’s judge.
“Just so you know, you’re not doing well.”
“The Office” was where “cringeworthy comedy” had its finest hour, and “All My Friends Hate Me” reminds us that show was a Ricky Gervais/Stephen Merchant oh-so-British invention. The fear of public humiliation, of not fitting in, the constant apologizing, the aggrieved victimhood aren’t just national punchlines, they’re badges of “Keep calm and carry on” stoicism.
Which of course makes all of Pete’s slights, real and perceived, more wincingly painful, if not always painfully funny.
Rating: R for language throughout, drug use and brief graphic nudity.
Cast: Tom Stourton, Georgina Campbell, Antonia Clarke, Graham Dickson, Joshua McGuire, Dustin Demri-Burns, Charly Clive and Christopher Fairbank.
Credits: Directed by Andrew Gaynord, scripted by Tom Palmer and Tom Stourton. A Neon release.
Running time: 1:35