Gregory’s Girl (1982)

27 Sep

GREGORY'S GIRL 1981 film still

Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

In the early 1980s, there was a trend in the movies called “teenage-sex movies.” Ever since “Porky’s” was released in 1982 and became a huge box-office hit, studios have tried to cash in on its success by simply making comedies about horny teenagers, usually boys, looking to “get lucky” with the opposite sex. They claim to be about growing up and becoming a man, when really, they’re really about unlikable jackasses who would nothing better than to have sex. They’re not looking for love or friendship with a member of the opposite sex; they see them as mysterious creatures or objects to obtain or hunt (or jump). So few movies about teenagers at the time were about real teenagers with real relationships and problems and so on—one in particular I can think of at the top of my head is “Tex,” which is one of my favorite movies; that film wasn’t about sex, but it was about coming of age and becoming a man.

Another film released around this time, and undoubtedly a breath of fresh air for critics and audiences looking for that type of film, was a Scottish film called “Gregory’s Girl,” made by Bill Forsyth. This is a film about an awkward, weird, not particularly handsome young man, named Gregory (Gordon John Sinclair), and his misadventures through life and through love. He’s curious about the girl he likes, but just wants to get to know her better, unlike his friends who would just do anything to get girls to notice them, even if it’s not particularly charming topics of conversation. (We all had friends like that in high school, didn’t we? My friend would often quote “Austin Powers” to try and impress a girl. Don’t try that, by the way. But I digress.)

Gregory is on the soccer team (though, it’s actually known as “football” there, of course), but his lack of skill and coordination on the field puts him down to the position of goalie. Taking his place is Dorothy (Dee Hepburn), an attractive, athletic girl who is a very talented soccer player. No one can believe how well “a girl” can play, especially the coach, but Gregory notices it as “modern” and sees her true athletic skills. But also, he immediately falls in love with her. He can’t stop thinking about her, he likes the way she plays, he likes the way she smells, he likes everything about her. He even likes her scars—there’s one scene in which Gregory and Dorothy show each other scars and injuries from their pasts. That’s a great scene—the chemistry is perfect, the body language is accurate, and you can really get a sense of what these two feel towards each other, as they’re polite during certain feelings they go through in this sequence.

So, we know that Gregory likes Dorothy a whole lot, but how does Dorothy feel about Gregory? Well, truth be told, I’m not sure. You can tell she likes him a little, and she knows he likes her, and she’s not above flirting with him while also making friendly conversation. You’re not quite sure of what she feels, but you know what? I was never sure how any girl in high school really felt; there’s hardly a way of knowing for us guys. Despite the title “Gregory’s Girl,” the film is not necessarily about Dorothy, but more about how Gregory reacts to these feelings he has now developed and how he works up the courage to ultimately ask her out on a date. The last 20 minutes of the film, in which he does have the courage to ask out Dorothy and what happens after he does, do not go in the way you’d expect it to be, but without giving too much away, you do feel Gregory’s confusion that slowly but surely turns into happiness.

Now, to be sure, this isn’t a complete success. Sometimes, it can be a little too cute in its humor and sometimes tries a bit too hard, particularly whenever Gordon John Sinclair does some bizarre improvisations (like mimicking a cat’s meow repeatedly) to make us laugh at him. And there’s also a disturbing subplot that sneaks its way in later in the film and is never made of anything again—is it me or did it seem like the soccer coach was flirting with Dorothy?

When “Gregory’s Girl” focuses on the mixed, messed-up emotions that real adolescents have in their lives, it works as comedy and drama, with gentle goofiness and a sense of sincerity. There are funny moments to be sure, but there are more sweet moments. I didn’t even mention the conversations Gregory has with his precocious 10-year-old sister, who herself is oblivious to boys (there is one, however, that does pine for her). They add to the charm and humor of this nicely-done film.

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