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Gregory's Girl

MGM // PG // December 11, 2001
List Price: $19.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by DVD Savant | posted December 17, 2001 | E-mail the Author

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Slight and unassuming and cute without being stupid, Gregory's Girl was a surprise in 1981, when American youth comedies were edging into the crass territory of titles like The Hollywood Knights. Simple and sweet, the tale of young Gregory hit a nerve of truth in both the UK and America, and it became an Arthouse hit for the quirky Scots director Bill Forsyth.


Lanky and awkward Gregory (Gordon John Sinclair) has grown five inches in one year and is simply hopeless at soccer, when he's smitten by the self-possessed and mature beauty Dorothy (Dee Hepburn). She's assertive enough to win herself a slot on the school soccer team, which has lost 6 games in a row. The boys at this school are an unorganized and mildly sex-obsessed lot, but Gregory's just a Dobie Gillis type with no experience, a sweet soul who needs coaching from his 10-year-old sister for the date he clumsily arranges with the girl of his dreams. Dorothy's simply out of his league, but the date works out fine, in, shall we say, a roundabout way.

We know Bill Forsyth for his hilarious, droll and original Local Hero. His even stranger Comfort and Joy is a hoot in its own way, and will be pounced upon by Savant the moment it appears on DVD. Savant caught that and Gregory's Girl not in the theater but on LA's old Z Channel, a proto cable service that showed a preponderance of interesting rarities, including the uncut 6 hour Das Boot tv series, and the ultra-long snoozefest version of Heaven's Gate. When they'd put on something like Nada or these two Forsyth movies, I'd tune in out of the blue and more often than not get a pleasant surprise.

Gregory's Girl is as basic as films get, and simply follows the gangly Gregory through a few days of mild romantic torment. The charm is in the film's conception of kids as curious and coltish, but basically sweet. Forsyth's little story doesn't impose social theories or have statements to make about the state of Scottish schoolkids. The situation is in fact, practically Utopian, a high school environment free of intimidation, racial tension, or outright terror. A slightly thick but cheerful guy like Gregory would be meat for the grinder in the high school I came from, and that was back in the '60s. My boys went to decent schools in the '90s here, and even in them they said you have to watch your back.

By setting his show in such a peaceful climate, Forsyth gets to concentrate his little drama on Gregory and his little heartthrob for the graceful Dorothy, Miss soccer ace. He's just not mature enough to fully relate to people quite yet, but the story doesn't become a tale of humiliation and disgrace. Other boys Gregory's age are either totally hopeless, like the pair who want to run away to Caracus (sic) in South America because of the male/female ratio; or they're into specific interests like cooking or photography.

Gregory barely has a notion of what to do with a girl if and when one slows down long enough to be kissed. Luckily, it's the girls who are more mature, have their acts together, and cooperate one with another to make things work out. Gregory's 'date' turns out to be a clever con game that redirects his attentions to a girl who fancies him, the less radiant but warmly attractive Susan. Gregory's not even aware he's been had, but it's okay: he's too young to even know what he wants. By evening's end he's infatuated with a totally different lass, but fancies himself a success in romance. All is well.

Forsyth's camerawork is totally without trickery, yet he throws in some nice visual touches, such as the person in a penguin mascot suit wandering lost through the halls. His writing links together running gags like the photographic pursuit of saleable photos of the nurses who undress in sight of telephoto lenses at night. (By the way, the show opens up with an almost Porky's - like scene that might throw one off to the general tone of the film.) The relationships are sketched quickly; there's one fast scene where Gregory's father almost runs him down on the road. About the closest we get to a social tract is the mention that the family doesn't see much of each other, and another bit about a 'successful' graduate whose 'swell job' is washing windows. There's an sly ending joke that visually compares the unattainable Caracas '9000 miles', with a jogging Dorothy. Savant didn't catch this personally - it had to be pointed out to him by his wife ... which pretty much proved Forsyth's basic premise.

Gordon John Sinclair is completely charming as Gregory; it's nice to see this film now if you're already a fan of Local Hero, because he's got a major role in that, too. The rest of the youngsters on view are equally interesting, especially the girls. Clare Grogan, Gregory's eventual 'date', was the lead singer of a Scottish rock band called Altered Images. Heart-stopper Dee Hepburn is credited, at least in the IMDB, with only one other appearance, in a television series.

MGM's DVD of Gregory's Girl does the feature proud. It looked like blurry 16mm on television but this 16:9 transfer is just fine. There are two soundtracks, an English redub, and an original Scottish track. For this reviewer, the Scottish original required use of the closed captions to follow the thick argot, but hearing how these kids actually speak was worth it. Gregory has a much lower voice in the Scots original, although the 'English' dubbing is excellent. Be careful when you start up, because the redub is the default, and you have to choose the Scots track manually.

A trailer simply lifts a minute or so from a hilariously simple scene where Gregory, having gotten his girl onto the grass in the park, suggests they 'dance', by just lying down and pawing the air with their hands. It's a great moment that captures perfectly the way even a maladroit can charm the right female, if he just relaxes and behaves as he normally would - no matter what silly thing he's into. You smile watching these moments - it reminds Savant of how at age 14 he'd show up at a girl's house with a stack of old MAD magazines, when she most likely had more advanced ideas of how to spend the evening.

Forsyth made more movies later in the '80s, but they didn't fare as well as his earlier work. There's a 1999 effort called Gregory's Two Girls, starring Gordon John Sinclair as a grown teacher, but by all accounts it was not a success.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Gregory's Girl rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Two audio tracks, trailer
Packaging: Amaray case
Reviewed: December 15, 2001

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