By: Kayla Caldwell
ALL MY FRIENDS HATE ME is an anxious person’s nightmare. It’s why I have no intention of attending any school reunions. Directed by Andrew Gaynord, ALL MY FRIENDS HATE ME captures thirty-something neuroses, and a warning that maybe some people from your past should stay there.
The movie begins with Pete (played by Tom Stourton, who co-wrote the film with Tom Palmer) as he jams out in his car while driving to his birthday party in the country, thrown by his posh, college friends. His more down-to-earth girlfriend Sonia (Charly Clive) is set to join him later in the weekend, after work. Pete’s clearly in good spirits, and despite a few awkward pit stops, and getting a bit lost, he arrives at his friend’s estate ready to party. He pulls up blasting music, and runs into the house with champagne. But no one is there.
Pete’s walk back to the car to close the doors and turn off the music is painfully sad. It’s not a great introduction to Pete’s crew, either, as they all arrive back from the bar, hours later, after Pete’s been sitting in the big, cold house alone, probably questioning all of his life choices. Then, when they finally do arrive, stereotypically posh party boy Archie (Graham Dickson) jokes that George (Joshua McGuire) had invited Pete as a prank. That is literally the anxious friend’s nightmare. These people play too much.
They also bring along a crass local from the bar named Harry (Dustin Demri-Burns), who is down to party, and seems weirdly set on edging Pete out. The tone is not nearly as upbeat as that opening sequence. Pete’s immediately suspicious of Harry, wracking his brain as to why this strange man looks so familiar.
The uni crew is back together, but has something changed? Because these people don’t actually seem to like each other. Pete is the target of many a joke and snarky comment from supposed buds George, Fig (Georgina Campbell), Claire (Antonia Clarke), Archie, and even Harry. They haven’t all been together in years, since Pete has been away working with refugees. Any time Pete tries to talk about his experiences, the subject is changed, or that make him drink, because Rule # 7 is “no talking shop.”
Pete doesn’t seem to like them as much as he thought, either, at one point telling Sonia over the phone, “I guess I thought that everyone would have grown up a bit more.” Archie and Fig also remind him of the “wild card tradition” they used to do, which sounds an awful lot like the premise of Dinner for Schmucks. They’re shocked when Pete reflects on the tradition, and admits, “I always thought it was a bit cruel, to be honest.” At one point Pete tells George that he plans to propose to his girlfriend, despite him not having done it yet or even gone so far as to purchase a ring to set the plan in motion. It could be seen as a bit premature, but at the same time, I think he’s just trying to share a secret with his old friend, to try to bring back that closeness and intimacy he used to feel when they were all at university. But rather than being happy for him, everyone is worried for their friend Claire, who has always had a thing for Pete.
As the weekend goes on, Pete becomes more and more paranoid. It’s made even worse because his current enemy, Harry, is sleeping on a couch in Pete’s room. Nowhere is safe. Pete can’t figure out if it’s all in his head, or if his “friends” have this secret, master plan just to make him miserable. (Fun fact - this was actually inspired by a time that Stourton worried he had been invited to a friend’s wedding as a prank. Check out the interview, here.) Every perceived slight sends Pete tumbling closer to madness. A scene where they go shooting is particularly memorable. Pete’s stress and anxiety is palpable, because after all - this was all planned for him, despite him not even knowing how to do it. The heat is mounting in this pressure cooker, and it is bound to explode.
ALL MY FRIENDS HATE ME is full of cringeworthy moments so uncomfortable you get secondhand embarrassment. As a 31-year-old with anxiety, ALL MY FRIENDS HATE ME felt like a personal attack. Unsolicited small talk with strangers, a stranger walking in on you naked, talking sh*t about someone only to find out they’re standing behind you - these are just a few of the real-life horrors that make ALL MY FRIENDS HATE ME such a nail-biter. The dialogue feels natural, albeit almost drag queen-level b*tchy. These are the kind of sharp-tongued characters who can drop one line so nonchalantly and yet it feels like a metaphorical slap in the face. At one point, Pete tells Archie he’s started seeing a therapist, and when the latter responds with, “we always hoped that you’d do that one day,” I felt that.
ALL MY FRIENDS HATE ME is like the movie version of “I carried a watermelon.” It takes all those fears your therapist tells you to shut down, and asks, “But what if you’re right?” There are no literal monsters or blood and gore to keep you up - it’s actually worse. ALL MY FRIENDS HATE ME plays on the part of your brain that is certain when you walk past a group of chattering teens, that they’re all laughing at you. We’ve all experienced the kind of person who likes to mess with you, but then explode with a chorus of, “I was just kidding around!” even if you respond in a similarly joking tone (see Into the Dark’s I’m Just F**king With You). ALL MY FRIENDS HATE ME is that awkward moment on steroids. And it’s not just a regular birthday party. It’s a weekend, so the only way out is through.
Stourton plays Pete so brilliantly awkward, you feel the embarrassment and frustration with him. He seems so likable that you wonder why his friends are so mean. But as the party roars on, Pete’s insecurity, anger, and paranoia paint a new picture. Is he a kind-hearted do-gooder, or a self-obsessed millennial using charity work to assuage his guilt from his youthful misdeeds? Are his friends really targeting him - or can he just to take a joke?
Find out for yourself when ALL MY FRIENDS HATE ME releases in theaters on March 11, and on digital, March 25.