Friends grow up, grow older and grow apart. That’s the cycle of life for college grads who, degrees in hand and futures ahead of them, go back to their homes to dig in and figure out what’s next. In the transition from the shelter afforded by universities into the real world, we tend to leave the people we care about in our pasts. It isn’t personal. It’s a byproduct of living in cultures and societies that prize advancement over fellowship. We may take comfort knowing that this experience isn’t unique, but it’s a small comfort, and smaller still for Pete, the nebbish lead millennial in All My Friends Hate Me.
Pete is played by Tom Stourton, who co-wrote the film with Tom Palmer. We open on a happy occasion: It’s the day before Pete’s birthday and he’s motoring to the countryside for a reunion with and shindig thrown by his old college pals, George (Joshua McGuire), Archie (Graham Dickson), Fig (Georgina Campbell) and Claire (Antonia Clarke), who’ve brought a guest into their midst: Harry (Dustin Demri-Burns), a roguish figure the crew met in a local pub. He’s such a charmer that they couldn’t resist inviting him to the party without asking Pete first. But it’s fine. A scoundrel Harry may be, but that won’t ruin the weekend. After all, Pete’s lovely girlfriend, Sonia (Charly Clive), is due to arrive the next day. Everything’s coming up Pete.
The trouble with reunions is, you don’t know who your old chums are today until they show you. A small mercy they show Pete is absence: He shows up at the remote manor where George is hosting Pete’s birthday party, and no one’s around. Unusual, a little insulting, but Pete has spent the last few years abroad working in refugee camps, so he just toughs it out. Once they return, All My Friends Hate Me argues pretty strongly that he’s better off alone. It’s one thing when friends change. It’s another thing when they immediately treat Pete as an afterthought, and when incidents start piling up—small to start with but increasingly sinister. Is Pete imagining things? Are Harry’s private notations in a memo pad about him? What happened to his pills? Who the hell is this “Plank” chap everybody keeps bringing up? What’s going on at this party?
All My Friends Hate Me digs out a special niche between cringe comedy and horror, as if Stourton, Palmer and director Andrew Gaynord welded an EC Comics plot to an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. The pairing isn’t pretty. Granted, it isn’t meant to be pretty. It’s meant to curdle our guts as we scan for the nearest exit, tempted to abandon the movie unfinished but hypnotized by its cavalcade of indignities great and small. Pete is a good sort, a little siloed into his own accomplishments since receiving his diploma and a bit of a wet blanket, but still: Good overall. We might take a less charitable view of him as self-obsessed, but with all he’s seen and done, he’s allowed the liberty of flexing. No one else is that interested in talking about careers anyhow. They’re also not interested in Pete, but in throwing down, puffing on cigars, pouring drink upon drink and slighting their “friend” at every turn. Whatever Pete’s flaws are, his mates are a pack of unapologetic assholes.
Do your friends still like you? What do they think of you? These questions aren’t specific to the millennial generation—even boomers compete in distant pissing contests with one another—but our anxiety is higher, perhaps a consequence of coming of age in the age of the social networking industrial complex. We’ve all stood awkwardly in Pete’s existential shoes at some point. It sucks. But none of us, or hopefully nowhere close to all of us, have been subjected to mounting microaggressions the way his friends do to him in All My Friends Hate Me, which Gaynord orchestrates with a slick, sophisticated assembly of techniques instead of the standard comedy aesthetic: Medium coverage, shot/reverse shot, toss it in the can and call it a picture. Gaynord likes his wide shots, tracking shots, slow pans and topsy-turvy handheld photography when the mood calls for it.
The ambition is impressive. Gaynord might’ve sacrificed handheld for the steadier style that shapes the rest of All My Friends Hate Me; it’s jarring, which is admittedly the likeliest intention, but he’s so good at stirring up chilling panic without it that letting the camera go unanchored, even for a minute, throws off his rhythm. A small misstep, of course: The whole of his movie, coursing with Stourton and Palmer’s caustic blunt force nastiness, maintains its anti-comedy to the exceptionally bitter end.
George, Archie, Fig, Claire and Harry put up a believable performance of camaraderie. Pete mostly buys it to start with. They suggest that maybe he needs to loosen up and that they’re all there for him, to celebrate him, that no one’s out to get him, and can’t he take a joke? But we’re privy to glimpses of the truth, of smiles that turn to stony grimaces and hangdog looks to sly smirks, caught in All My Friends Hate Me’s margins where Pete can’t see them. Knowing more than Pete is painful, but it’s an all too familiar pain that we can’t look away from. We can, however, think twice about going out for drinks with the roommates we lost touch with years ago.
Director: Andrew Gaynord
Writer: Tom Stourton, Tom Palmer
Starring: Tom Stourton, Joshua McGuire, Graham Dickson, Georgina Campbell, Antonia Clarke, Dustin Demri-Burns, Charly Clive
Release Date: March 11, 2022
Bostonian culture journalist Andy Crump covers the movies, beer, music, and being a dad for way too many outlets, perhaps even yours. He has contributed to Paste since 2013. You can follow him on Twitter and find his collected work at his personal blog. He’s composed of roughly 65% craft beer.