Imagine the protagonist of a Richard Curtis film woke up on the morning of whichever wedding or funeral they were to attend, suddenly cursed with self-awareness. The resulting movie, a comedy that elicits such bone-deep cringe it’s indistinguishable from horror, might look a lot like Andrew Gaynord’s “All My Friends Hate Me,” a ferociously witty, deeply British evisceration of upper-class Millennial anxiety, dedicated to the truism that if you can’t spot the asshole in any group of five or more people, the asshole is you.
Pete (Tom Stourton) is just back from a volunteer stint at a refugee camp, and is setting off in high spirits to spend his birthday weekend in the enormous stately home owned by his friend George (Joshua McGuire). Pete’s down-to-earth girlfriend Sonia (Charly Clive) will join him the following day, but initially it’s just going to be him and his college chums: the ineffably posh George and his wife Fig (Georgina Campbell), foppish cokehound Archie (Graham Dickson) and Pete’s somewhat unstable ex, Claire (Antonia Clarke). Pete may have lost touch with them a bit over the past few years, but that’s hardly going to matter, not with the hedonistic history he shares with these guys, right? As they tell each other repeatedly, each time sounding less convinced than the last, they’re such good mates they can just pick up exactly where they left off.
Problem is, they may not exactly agree on where they left off, or on who they were to each other when that happened, or on just how forgiving they’re willing to be of foibles that might have been fun at 21 but look pretty idiotic a decade later. And so, after a few disquieting, “Withnail and I”-style encounters on the way there, Pete arrives, not to the rambunctious welcome he expects, but to an empty mansion. Is there anything more forlornly absurd than a man woot-wooting to the obnoxious party music blaring from his car stereo (a cunning deployment of Darude’s utterly-unbearable-if-you’re-not-on-drugs staple “Sandstorm”) only to discover there’s no one to woot-woot back? There is not.
Worse still, when the gang does eventually return from the pub, they have a stranger in tow. Harry (Dustin Demri-Burns) is a local, who seems hellbent on replacing the increasingly insecure and paranoid Pete as the center of attention, and that’s only the least sinister interpretation of his odd behavior and needling remarks. As drinks are downed, drugs are snorted and little fissures between how Pete remembers things and how the rest of them think they happened keep working their way to the surface, the tenor of the weekend becomes escalatingly nightmarish.
But also escalatingly funny: “All My Friends Hate Me” could be used as exhibit A in the defense of the theory that comedy and horror spring from exactly the same root, a balance mimicked in Joe Robbins and Will Lowes’ comically foreboding electro score. And this eerie-funny yin-yang is built-in: While Gaynord (Netflix’s “The Characters”) delivers a nicely polished feature directorial debut, and both Ben Moulden’s rich, restrained, occasionally woozy camerawork and Saam Hodilvala’s blunt, startling editing are superb, the real crackle comes from the film’s exceptionally well-observed script.
Written by Stourton and Tom Palmer, who have collaborated as Totally Tom on two well-received Edinburgh stage comedy shows, the movie is really a testament to its creators’ wincingly accurate, take-no-prisoners self-assessment, which operates, Britishly, on the level of both class anxiety and life-stage/generational angst. And so while it does overtly nod to Britcom staples past (Harry sings the “Four Weddings” theme “Love Is All Around” during a karaoke session; the Manor setting and Pete’s name seem to directly reference Kenneth Branagh’s uber-luvvie “Peter’s Friends,” of which this movie could be a Buñuellian remake) the effect here is far more subversive than the rueful romcom antics and floppy-haired, fackity-fack upper-class apologism of those touchpoints.
There’s also an obvious advantage in having a writer-star. Stourton’s role is tailored to fit him so perfectly as a performer that it’s hard to imagine anyone else making such anguished tragicomic hay out of the line “Skippy! The Skipper! Because I was the captain of the partaayy!” His innate decent-blokeishness can, like a trick of the light, flicker into intensely aggravating punchability, making the character, and by extension the film, a masterclass in misdirecting sympathies. In fact “All My Friends Hate Me” does this so well that it is perhaps a very slight letdown that in the final moments its claws are retracted somewhat when it could have gone in for the kill. But still, this is a terrific calling card, especially for the writing partnership, a funny, horrible, ordeal-by-comedy that may prove uncomfortably recognizable to anyone who has ever wondered why on earth every single other person in the room is behaving like such a knob.