Think back to a time when the playground was not an arena for drugs and violence, when schools did not shower pupils with qualifications like confetti (have an “A” for Attendance).
Back in the early 80s, Gregory's Girl gave us an altogether more charming, whimsical look at life in a secondary school where the illegal substances of choice were jam doughnuts and marzipan and the boys’ toilets were not ruled by bullies and smokers, but a schoolboy entrepreneur selling rather demure photographs of the local pin-up.
Directed by Bill Forsyth, like many of his movies (Local Hero, That Sinking Feeling), the story is set in Scotland and is a straightforward comedy, tackling the tried-and-trusted subject matter of young love. Gregory is an incredibly awkward (i.e. typical) teenager. Struggling to cope with his latest growth spurt, not to mention his onrushing hormones, he loses his place in the school football team to a girl, Dorothy, who rapidly becomes the object of his affections:
Gregory: Have you ever been in love? I'm in love.
Steve: Since when?
Gregory: This morning. I feel restless and dizzy. I bet I won't get any sleep tonight.
Steve: Sounds like indigestion.
"And they called it puppy love"
Gregory is a hopeless case, so clueless about girls that he even takes advice from his 10-year old sister, Madeline, though she is more interested in ice cream. Maddy also tries to improve his terrible dress sense, as he constantly opts for unfashionable brown.
Christ, you're worse than my dad. He's old - at least he's got an excuse for being a prick!
Nevertheless, Gregory is an immensely likeable character. All arms and legs and inexperience, he is clumsy to the point of embarrassment. His marvelously accented attempts to speak Italian (“Bella, bella”) only highlight his lack of sophistication (“Arrividerci, Gordon. Hurry back”). With his shock of red hair and unfailing ability to say the wrong things at the wrong time, he desperately struggles to cope with his new-found feelings of love/lust.
All that fuss over a bit of tit.
Acting on the advice of Madeline, Gregory asks Dorothy out and to his surprise she accepts. Of course, we all know that girls are more mature than boys at that age, better able to retain some sense of perspective, while “the lads” are absolutely helpless when in the throes of their first teenage romance. So begins a shameless (but good-hearted) manipulation of Gregory’s night out. Dorothy does not turn up for their date, but a string of other girls lead him on until he arrives at the ultimate goal of the delightfully dippy Susan, who has a secret crush on Gregory and cures him of his infatuation with Dorothy.
There's definitely something in the air tonight, Charlie. That's three women in a row he's had.
Susan is played by Clare Grogan, the utterly delectable lead singer of Altered Images, a band championed by the ultimate arbiter of musical taste, Mr. John Peel. John Gordon Sinclair played Gregory with a perfect balance between teen angst and comic awkwardness, but never really found another role as wonderful as this, ending up in sitcom land.
"I could be happy"
While the plot is a simple romance, the true charm of this film comes not so much from the narrative, but from its quirky characters, awkward situations and witty dialogue. Scottish comedian, Chic Murray, is hilarious in a cameo role as the eccentric headmaster with a liking for pastries and tickling the ivories, “Off you go, you small boys”.
Other rich diversions include an unidentified child wandering the corridors of the school dressed in a penguin outfit, always directed to another room in the building with no explanation provided. It may or may not be some sort of metaphor for life where we all shuffle around looking for where we ought to be, but it’s undeniably very funny.
When Gregory’s friends try to hitchhike to Caracas, where they have heard that women greatly outnumber men, they inevitably fail at that as well:
Charlie: That's not the way you spell 'Caracus' anyway
Charlie: Caracas. It's c-a-s, not c-u-s.
Andy: We've been standing here for four hours! Why didn't you tell me?
One of the more worldly boys (alright a window cleaner), pays Gregory’s sister a compliment:
She’s only ten, but she has the body of a woman of thirteen.
In the meantime Gregory tells the lad who’s courting Madeline that he’s pushing things a bit, adding:
You’ll run out of vices before you’re twelve.
"Another dodgy Scottish keeper"
While the clothes and hairstyles on display might look dated, the humour and relevance of this wonderful film have not aged a bit. With its delicate sense of humour, this is an under-stated piece of film-making, but it packs a mighty punch (“From a Whisper to a Scream”, as Elvis Costello once said).
Although Gregory’s Girl is a decidedly Scottish affair, which was even dubbed with milder accents for the American release, the film deals with universal themes of young love and sexual awakening. Strong on observation with completely natural performances, it’s about how the awkwardness and uncertainty of youth never really leave us, though it should be dedicated to anyone who was ever a teenager in love.