The film “All My Friends Hate Me” satirizes anxiety and paranoia among upper-class British millennials. Its writers say they are laughing at themselves most of all.
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LONDON — Seven years ago, Tom Stourton, 35, received a wedding invitation from two college friends. He was surprised, having drifted apart from the couple. But he attended the event, arriving hung over and sleep deprived from another party the night before.
“Over the course of the day, I became increasingly paranoid that I had been invited as a joke,” Stourton recalled in a recent video interview. He feared the groom would reveal the prank during the speeches.
Looking back more recently, “it seemed like a funny idea,” he said, “being somewhere where you should be having fun with your friends, but there’s this undertone of something hostile.”
The writer, actor and comedian wove this setup into a screenplay with his co-writer, Tom Palmer, also 35. The resulting film, “All My Friends Hate Me,” opens in limited theaters Friday, before coming to streaming platforms later this month.
Stourton plays Pete, an anxious, self-involved 31-year-old who corrals a group of college friends to celebrate his birthday in the countryside. Over the course of the boozy weekend, he becomes increasingly worried that they secretly despise him. In a video interview, the film’s director, Andrew Gaynord, described its world as “manor houses and posh people and rolling fields — very British.”
For Pete and his “mates,” the equally British social norm of keeping a stiff upper lip conceals contemporary anxieties about class, wealth and privilege. Insecurities are deeply felt but never discussed, and over the course of the weekend, Pete’s mental state starts to unravel. The film is part black comedy, part psychological thriller. “I liked the idea of a guy blowing things out of proportion in his head — and that playing like a horror film,” Gaynord said.
Social anxiety like this is one aspect of a constellation of mental health issues impacting young British people, and its effect on young men has been getting more attention in recent years. Twenty percent of men in Britain aged 16 to 29 are likely to experience some form of depression, according to a recent report from the Office for National Statistics. The BBC recently announced a new documentary about men’s mental health, which is centered on the singer James Arthur, and, in Arthur’s words, “our reliance as a nation on anti-depressants.”
In 2019, Prince William helped introduce a campaign, Heads Together, to tackle stigma around mental health. Last year, his younger brother, Prince Harry, discussed his own struggles in “The Me You Can’t See,” a documentary series for Apple TV+ that he co-produced with Oprah Winfrey.
When they were writing the script, Palmer and Stourton wanted to make sure they were depicting anxiety authentically within this wider cultural context. So Palmer consulted with the author Olivia Sudjic, whose 2018 book, “Exposure,” discusses modern anxiety. According to Sudjic, millennials, in particular, can be on high alert, policing their own behavior. In a recent video interview, she described this anxiety as a “ripple effect” of “paranoia around ‘cancel culture’ and vigilance online” that afflicts a generation of adults who grew up on the internet.
But in the four years since “Exposure” was published, the ways that anxiety is discussed have shifted, Sudjic said. Before the pandemic, there was a “stigma,” she said, around being open about your mental health issues if your life looked more comfortable than other people’s. Then, during Britain’s lockdowns, even the wealthy struggled. Since then, it’s become more “OK to talk about mental health even if you feel like you’re very privileged,” she said.
In “All My Friends Hate Me,” which was filmed in late 2019, the discomfort of acknowledging your own wealth and privilege needles the characters, a familiar thread in much of Stourton and Palmer’s work. The pair met at Eton College, an elite all-boys boarding school known for educating princes and prime ministers. After university, they formed the comedy duo “Totally Tom,” and in 2010, a YouTube video they made went viral. In it, Stourton plays a student at the University of Bristol, or as Palmer put it to The Spectator newspaper, a “posh buffoon” trying incredibly hard to be cool. The following year, they were nominated for best newcomer at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe for a show directed by Gaynord, who the pair had met on the British comedy circuit.
The character of Pete is a continuation of these themes.
“They’re sort of fair game, aren’t they?” Palmer said in the video interview, referring to “posh people.” The pair wrote the film with a focus on trying to make fun of themselves, Stourton said.
Gaynord, however, comes from a different background. “I grew up in a council house,” he said. “My mum’s a cleaner, my dad’s a taxi driver, in Manchester. My school wasn’t particularly good.” What he and “the Toms” had in common, he said, was a tendency toward anxiety and overthinking.
Material circumstances are at the root of the “existential dread” plaguing many young British men, according to Alex Holmes, the author of “Time to Talk: How Men Think About Love, Belonging and Connection.”
In a recent video interview, Holmes described turning 30 as “the benchmark age where everything has to change dramatically.” Not meeting certain milestones — like acquiring a mortgage, getting married and starting a family — can lead men to a lot of anxiety around a “feeling of catching up,” he said.
In “All My Friends Hate Me,” Pete finds himself in his friend’s parents’ house, drinking his friend’s parents’ whiskey. As the weekend goes on, his friends also mock him in a scathing “comedy roast” that Pete finds deeply unfunny. It’s a nod to the cruel humor Stourton was surrounded by as a student, which was really “a way to get one up on someone, so the jokes don’t end up being angled toward you,” he said.
The infantilizing nature of the weekend becomes an additional source of stress for Pete, as does the presence of Harry (Dustin Demri-Burns), a new addition to the group, and his ex and current girlfriends. The film finds comedy in the tension between the intensity of Pete’s suffering at all this and the possibility it’s all in his head.
“It’s particularly funny,” Stourton said, “watching the white privileged man experiencing being gaslit.”
After all, “he doesn’t have any real problems in his life,” Gaynord said. “I think it’s quite cathartic to laugh at that.”