A lot more license might have been granted the randy, horny teenagers farce “Our Ladies” had it started life as a novel by a woma, and reached the big screen with, you know, a woman or two on the script or behind the camera.
Because all due respect to Michael Caton-Jones, who has everything from “Scandal” and “Doc Hollywood” to “Memphis Belle” and “Rob Roy” in his credit, it can play like some sort of adolescent male’s wish-fulfillment fantasy.
I mean, libidinous Catholic teenage girls — in uniform — comparing notes, bragging about sexual prowess and their conquests in terms so coarse, crude and explicit they’d make many a men’s lock room collectively blush? “Girls” (16-17) with a “bottom’s up, knickers down” ethos when they’re away from Our Lady of Perpetual Succour School in Fort William? That plays into a whole lot of borderline-to-well-across-the-borderline pervy male fantasies, the world over.
But good humor and a heaping helping of heart pull it off.
A coming-of-age dramedy set in 1996 Scotland, it has the feel of a movie filmed in that era in indie international cinema. You’ve got rude, rebellious and sexually active — or desperate to be sexually-active — small town Catholic schoolgirls gone wild in a world of karaoke, growing up too fast and ’80s and ’90s Brit pop and pubs.
Every guy in it is either hapless or an utter heel — daft, think-they’re-rakes peers and older creepy disco era holdovers trying to prey on a schoolgirls’ choir come to Edinburgh to compete and raise hell. And to the filmmakers’ credit, the poor Scotsmen and Scots boys are no match for this estrogenized mob.
Orla (Tallulah Greive) is the mascot of this crew, dodging her pills and covering her head with a scarf to hide her short hair. She’s “our miracle,” choir mistress Sister Condron (Kate Dickie) enthuses. Yeah, Orla survived something horrible, and narrates our tale. And of course they call Sister Condron “Sister Condom.”
Lifelong pals Manda (Sally Messham) and Finnoula (Abigail Lawrie) are kind of ringleaders. But Kylah (Marli Siu) is the cool one with the best voice, which she trots out for a rock band she fronts and “shags” for kicks. Chell (Rona Morison) is the most sexually uninhibited.
And there’s the rich girl Kay (Eve Austin) they all love to hate. They can make all the sneak-off-and-stir-it-up plans they want for their choir competition in Edinburgh. No way they’ll include the choir mistress’s pet, the college bound “head girl” dropped off in a luxury sedan at “The Virgin Megastore” (their nickname for school) every morning.
But over the course of their trek to the Big City, we’ll learn each girl’s hidden pain or secret shame, figure out their aspirations or lack of them — college, or trapped in Fort William — as they navigate a minefield of under-age drinking and unprotected sex.
“Our Ladies” dances through a string of melodramatic cliches and almost riotously funny situations — always interrupted by a dollop of humanity and heart.
The girls tart up and drink until they vomit, break the rules and break each other’s hearts as they figure out Truths about themselves in a city famous for its drinking and Scottish sin.
Caton-Jones keeps it on its feet, which helps the cliches skip by as quickly as the truly cringe-worthy moments, most of which end with a guys-are-such-losers punchline.
And Grieve, Siu, Lawrie, Austin, Messham and Morison each get a passable “big scene” and telling moment, some more serious than others, that make “Our Ladies” worth hearing out, no matter how filthy their modes of expression.
Rating: R for sexual content, language throughout, brief graphic nudity, and teen drinking and drug use
Cast: Tallulah Greive, Sally Messham, Marli Siu, Abigail Lawrie, Rona Morison and Kate Dickie.
Credits: Directed by Michael Caton-Jones, scripted by Michael Caton-Jones, Alan Sharp, based on a novel by Alan Warner. A Sony Pictures International release on several streaming platforms.
Running time: 1:46