Gregory is a normal teen who is infatuated with a classmate. He must work to win her affection.
Watching Gregory's Girl when you are still a teenager must be a tough experience; not only does it heighten all the vulnerabilities, awkwardness and hopelessness that marks out the acne years but it also denies any notion that the experience is unique and special. It may be set in Cumbernauld, Scotland the accents were famously dubbed so cloth-eared yanks to understand them but Bill Forsyth's superbly judged mixture of romantic yearnings and the offside trap is so well observed and poignantly rendered it could play just as well in Mombassa as Motherwell.
Owing more to the generous, gentle approach of French filmmakers Rene Clair and Francois Truffaut than anything produced by Ealing, Gregory's Girl grew out of Forsyth's desire to make a young love story. Inspired by Jack Kerouac's high school set comedy Maggie Cassidy, Forsyth developed the (BAFTA winning) screenplay during workshops at Glasgow Youth Theatre layering an understated sense of social comment into the confection.
"I wanted to show someone in a very luxurious situation," Forsyth explained of the story, "growing up in a new town, going to a good school and who was still prepared to whine about the only thing for him to whine about the fact that he was in love."
Anchored around an especially useless school football team, the plot is simplicity itself: gawky Gregory struggles to earn the attention and affection of new star striker Dorothy who has relegated him to goalie in the first eleven. Forsyth barely resorts to the gal-in-a-guys-team gambit to get laughs. Instead he offers inspired sight gags (a kid in a penguin suit is directed from classroom to classroom), endlessly quotable dialogue ("Ten years old with the body of a woman of 13 ") and a sense of silliness rooted in reality (the horizontal park dance).
Moreover, much of Gregory's Girl's comedy is purely character based, realised by spot-on performances. An apprentice electrician during the film's making, Sinclair (he is credited as Gordon John in the movie but switched to John Gordon for the usual Equity reasons) is probably cinema's most likeable gangly teen; a master at comedically capturing pained diffidence. By turns driven and winsome, Hepburn, who learned her football skills at Partick Thistle, neatly etches Dorothy as an unattainable yet believable goddess her lesson in trapping a football cum disco dance is priceless. But she is outshone by the elusive, beret sporting Susan, the girl Dorothy sets him up with: spotted by Forsyth working as a waitress (just as her band Altered Images were taking off) Grogan is such a likeably loopy presence, the film pulls off the neat trick of Gregory losing out on the object of his desire yet still winning.
Orbiting around the central threesome are a number of interesting teen characters trivia obsessed Andy, cookery expert Steve whose skill at home economics is the gentle counterpoint to the gender subversion in the main plot that have no trucks with the Jock-Nerd-Prom Queen stereotypes parodied in Kevin Williamson scripts. Forsyth's world works on a sliding scale of wisdom: it is the teachers who are the most juvenile standouts here are the perfectly pathetic footie coach Phil Menzies (D'Arcy) and the headmaster (Chic Murray) delightfully lost in his own world playing the piano the teens only slightly more adjusted but it is the kids who hold the monopoly over real wisdom in particular Gregory's pre-teen sister Madeline (Allison Forster) who adeptly coaches her dippy brother in the ways of love.
Amid the gentle frippery, Gregory's Girl nails the glorious pains and heartfelt highs of adolescence better than many films with more serious centres. Tapping into universal dating rituals getting up the nerve to ask someone out, dressing up for a date, waiting for the date to arrive the playing out of Gregory's infatuation may be comic but it is truthful. Both on and off the set. "Gordon was actually getting on with Dee," recalls Forsyth, in particular the sequence in which Dorothy is hit upon by the suave school reporter. "During that scene, Gordon became jealous between takes, the other guy was chatting up Dee. And he had a car he could really drive! So the whole thing became real."
Budgeted at under £200,000, grossing around £500,000, in the end, Gregory's Girl didn't prove to be a particularly influential movie: there was a brief trend in quirky Scotcom such as Restless Natives and The Girl In The Picture; Trainspotting practically lifted a riff from Forsyth's dialogue concerning "a world full of wankers"; and 2000 saw the painfully dreadful Gregory's 2 Girls which propelled our hapless hero, now a teacher, into a, frankly, ludicrous plot about factory malpractice and human rights atrocities.
In the end, perhaps Gregory's Girl was just too darned idiosyncratic to replicate. Daft and deft, innocent yet knowing, it remains the growing up spread you never grow out of.
Football + teen neurosis = a winner.