You kind of forget that Bill Forsyth’s charming “Gregory’s Girl” begins with a bunch of thick-accented Scots mop tops leering through the window at a nurse disrobing in the dressing room at the local hospital.
“She’s go’a BRA-zere!”
Maybe this one isn’t aging well at all, you fret, post #MeToo.
And then this 1980 jewel takes you right back to what made it an indie phenomenon and launched Forsyth’s distinctly quirky career (“Local Hero” and “Breaking In”). It may be ostensibly from the boy’s point of view, but Gregory (John Gordon Sinclair) is harmless, gangly, and gawky. More to the point, he is hapless and helpless in the commanding presence of more together (more “sorted” as they say in the UK) girls his own age.
The “girl” (Dee Hepburn) is the fetching jogger/classmate who joins Gregory’s soccer team, in essence displacing him. Dorothy has game. She’s ahead of her time. The sports bra hadn’t been invented and she may not “bend it like Beckham,” but then, “Beckham” was five years old when this film came out.
And as for style, “Gregory’s Girl” was adorably “random” before “random” was a thing.
Forsyth set his tale in colorless “modern” Scottish suburbia, in a high school where Gregory’s best mates are Andy (Robert Buchanan), dead-serious about home ec class baking as if he’s found a trade, and Steve (Billy Greenlees), who is a shorter and slightly more outgoing than Gregory, if just as helpless with the girls.
“D’ye knoooow that 12 tonnes of Cornflakes pass under here every day?”
Everybody wears the same tie, more or less the same uniform and all the lads — at least — have matching Bay City Rollers shag cuts.
Whatever soccer skill Gregory had evaporated when he hit a growth spurt. The coach (Jake D’Arcy) may fret over eight straight losses. Gregory, formerly a star striker? No worries. A demotion to goalie, with a threat to cut the shambolic goof altogether?
“You won’t regret this,” he grins. God knows he won’t.
And then Dorothy shows up, and “shows up” the lads. Gregory’s life has purpose, “obsessed with a beautiful, unattainable girl” purpose.
The random stuff begins almost right away. Gregory and his wiser 11 year-old sister (Allison Forster) live middle-class lives largely without the supervision of parents. His dad (Dave Anderson) is a driving instructor whose student almost runs his kid over on his (late) way to school. This is the only time we meet a parent.
“Your mother…you remember your mother? I told her we met briefly in the hallway last week…”
Teachers giggle through the window of the teacher’s lounge at Gregory’s oddball/dodgeball way of crossing fields and lawns to get to class. Somebody in a penguin costume shows up in the hallway, never says a word, and one random teacher glances at her and says “Room 6.” A scene or two later, same thing, another teacher — “Room 14” this time.
Gregory spends a few seconds on the drums before any given day’s departure for school, walks out the door and is surrounded by scores of unexplained pre-schoolers. Every day.
A little boy who is baby-sister Madeleine’s age has more poise, polish and manners when it comes to knocking on their door than Gregory ever will.
The photographer for the school magazine, Eric (Alan Love), has a mini-me younger fanboy who does everything — gestures, etc. — that Eric does.
It’s a movie peppered with cackle-out-loud goofy touches, quirky line-readings, mock outrage and “tolerance” even though “GerrULLLS wair’no MADE t’play foo-ball!”
“It’s MODairn. It’s the FUTURE!”
Indeed it was.
“Gregory’s Girl” is pretty much as funny as it ever was and is, if anything, even quainter than when it came out. Gregory’s obsession with “brown” means making him over is a particular challenge for baby sister.
Forsyth’s penchant for whimsy, aka those “random” touches, means that it hits several points where we’re sure it’s over, and sure enough, it isn’t. The third act could be tighter. The “kids” are unaffected, quite natural. But none of them went on to major careers. Nor for that matter did Forsyth — just a handful of films, one of them a sequel I couldn’t get through a few years back.
But any doubt that there are teen comedy “classics” of the 80s that don’t have Chicagoan John Hughes’ name in the credits is erased in a flash.
Need an excuse to try Film Movement Plus for a month? It’s streaming there through May Day.
MPAA Rating: PG (nudity)
Cast: John Gordon Sinclair, Dee Hepburn, Jake D’Arcy. Clare Grogan, Robert Buchanan and Billy Greenlees
Credits: Written and directed by Bill Forsyth. A Film Movement+ release.
Running time: 1:31