All My Friends Hate Me, 2021.
Directed by Andrew Gaynord.
Starring Nia Roberts, Annes Elwy, Julian Lewis Jones, Sion Alun Davies, Steffan Cennydd, Rhodri Meilir, Charly Clive and Lisa Palfrey.
Reconnecting with his university friends after years working with refugees, a young man becomes increasingly sure that something is amiss with the group of people he once trusted.
Andrew Gaynord’s debut feature All My Friends Hate Me captures a very millennial concern. If you’ve moved away from your buddies for several years, and then you reconnect with them later on, will they think you’re a dick? This decidedly uncomfortable feeling is conveyed with awkward likeability by actor Tom Stourton, who also co-wrote the script, in a movie that immerses its audience in a strange and fraught social arena. Often, it’s genius.
Stourton is Pete, who has arrived at the family home of his wealthy uni mate George (Joshua McGuire) for his birthday weekend, having been away working with refugees for almost a decade. When he gets there, his friends seem to be out at the pub without him and they return with random local Harry (Dustin Demri-Burns) in a nod to one of their uni traditions of inviting strangers to parties. Pete becomes increasingly paranoid as he perceives a tension among his friends, and he’s sure Harry has something to do with it. The guy does always seem to be scribbling in a notebook.
Given the way this film exists on the borderline of social niceties, it requires a precision-calibrated central performance. Stourton is able to deliver that, ambling about as a sort of hybrid form of Rory from Doctor Who and the comedian Mark Watson. At times, he’s a likeable doofus, but sometimes we can feel him pushing too far. He’s torn between wanting his bond to be what it was before he left and the feeling that he seems to have changed more than they have – “I guess I thought everyone would’ve grown up a little more,” he confesses to girlfriend Sonia (Charly Clive) over the phone.
Gaynord’s direction allows Pete’s paranoia to gently boil and simmer, whether it’s his askew perspective on the things that are actually happening or the vivid visions he has when he falls asleep. There’s a sense throughout that, with his friends having remained close in his absence, he’s slightly out of the loop and lacking in the sort of synchronicity that comes with living in each other’s pocket as students. It helps that the friends vary between quietly nuanced people and almost parodically broad caricatures, with Graham Dickson’s increasingly drug-addled posho Archie a comic highlight.
The tone of All My Friends Hate Me is a very strange one, and it’s as often off-putting as it is enthralling. It’s a movie willing to take its time and the script seems disinclined to reveal its secrets, even as the revelations tumble out in the third act. There’s a malevolent joy to the way the final scenes unravel, and some of the humour is very dark indeed. It’s the sort of film that feels emblematic of the tonal tightrope British comedy has the ability to walk.
There are definitely hallmarks of a first feature in All My Friends Hate Me, which is packed with good ideas and sharp observations, but doesn’t always come together with the cohesion it probably ought to have. Gaynord shows real flair for comedy and for allowing the tension to increase gradually, but there are a couple of fluffed moments and elements which don’t quite have the killer pay-off. When it works though, it really works and the stage is set for Gaynord and Stourton – either together or apart – to hit even higher levels in future movies.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.