Pete (Tom Stourton) hasn’t seen his university mates in years. Ten years to be exact. It happens. Life happens. We reach adulthood, mature, and set goals for ourselves that the people who were closest to us during that formidable period simply cannot follow—their own ambitions lie upon different forks in the road. So resentment shouldn’t factor in. Nor should jealousy. Yet Pete can’t help wondering about both. A little voice in the back of his head wonders if a decade was too long to pretend things could pick up where they left off. Would their very posh upbringing think he abandoned them to work with refugees? Do they think he thinks he’s better than them for doing it? What if he thinks that?
To say this character is racked with anxiety undersells the truth that he’s ready to blow a gasket thanks to swirling paranoia, nerves, and terror. Because it isn’t just about lost time. It’s also about their history together. Pete and Claire (Antonia Clarke) used to date, and the way George (Joshua McGuire) and Fig (Georgina Campbell) talk, she might still be in love with him. Add a very clear animosity coming from Archie (Graham Dickson)—the drug-addled rich boy who shows up to this reunion with a tuxedo—and you cannot deny something is amiss. What we must remember, however, is that director Andrew Gaynord and writers Tom Palmer and Stourton have positioned onscreen events from Pete’s perspective. So how much of that “animosity” should we trust?
With a title like All My Friends Hate Me, the answer is all of it and none at the same time. The filmmakers want us to believe because it ratchets up the suspense, but that tension is never at the expense of the pitch-black comedy that exists by its side. George, Archie, and the rest make mention that there’s a surprise coming, so the constant snide remarks and quick bids to change the subject whenever Pete is about to discuss his charity work could easily be a smokescreen for some grand reveal. What better way to celebrate the birthday of a long-since absent friend than a coordinated attack on his ego meant to get him primed for an inevitable emotional and psychological release?
I could think of many. So could Pete. As such, you can’t deny his desire to figure out what he’s missing. Maybe they do want to take him down a peg—not that he’s cognizant enough to admit he deserves it. Maybe they’re still immature brats who think they’re better than the “pezes” (what Archie calls peasants) and he’s deluding himself into believing otherwise. Or maybe there’s some massive conspiracy at play courtesy local party-crasher Harry (Dustin Demri-Burns) that the gang picked up at a bar while Pete sat alone in George’s parents’ giant mansion for hours waiting. All we know for certain is that the more effort he spends uncovering the “truth,” the greater the chance he ends up being the problem.
If you’ve ever left an event thinking about the impression you made rather than how much fun you had, the gradual unraveling of Pete’s psyche will feel familiar. He remembers he used to be the life of the party—something his current girlfriend Sonia (Charly Clive) can’t believe when he’s now an early-to-bed, walk-on-eggshells type of guy. Pressure to be the “Skipper” again is weighing him down. Half of him wants to prove he’s the same reprobate from their youth. The other half hopes they’ve all become wet blankets, too, so he can simply breathe a sigh of relief and not pretend. As Harry hijacks the weekend, however, Pete starts to wonder if he was always the outcast. Has he just been lying to himself?
The evidence arrives with a sort of cringe humor that won’t be for everyone. Whether it’s Pete mocking a stranger while he’s standing behind him or Fig telling him he’s ruining all their fun, the whole becomes an exercise in mental gymnastics as far as figuring out motives. Stories from their college days prove hazy and incorrect to some. Tragedies that galvanized the groups’ bonds over these last few years come as news to Pete—he wasn’t there. Happy news (e.g. Pete’s potential engagement to Sonia) conjures as much joy as trepidation when not everyone is made privy to everything. Back then they were inseparable. Now it’s like they’re strangers. And the actual stranger, Harry, seems poised to drive the wedge in even further.
As it goes deeper, Pete jumps to more outlandish conclusions. We follow him for no reason beyond our inherent desire for a protagonist. Like I mentioned above, however, him being the protagonist of his own story doesn’t guarantee he’s the protagonist of the film. Every story has two sides, after all. What he sees as a slight might just be a joke to which he’s reacted badly. That’s admittedly a slippery slope, though, since someone taking offense is all it takes for an act to prove offensive. Intent is secondary if it figures in at all. And Palmer and Stourton have no qualms pushing the envelope with slurs, gags in poor taste, and the most awkward roast possible considering the target was never asked for consent.
The result is as funny as it’s excruciating and alienating as it’s relatable. Credit the cast for toeing those lines; it’s not easy to be simultaneously abhorrent and empathetic. It helps that Gaynord and company find a way to keep every situation shrouded in a secret. Some are big, most small, but they’re all crucial to misleading our assumptions (and Pete’s) enough to never find the balance necessary for guessing what’s next. These are very flawed, insecure human beings discovering that life is a perpetual game of pretend where we struggle to like and be liked in extreme circumstances better-suited for hate. The movie is too. Look no further than a final line that’s as blood-boilingly reductive as it is apt.
All My Friends Hate Me hits limited release on March 11 and VOD/Digital HD on March 25.