Gregory’s Girl (1981)
★★★ / ★★★★
A Scottish high school football (soccer) team, led by an exasperated coach (Jake D’Arcy), has lost eight games in a row, but the striker, Gregory (John Gordon Sinclair) does not seem to mind. Coach has an idea. In order to have a better chance at winning, he is going to inject new blood in the team by holding tryouts during lunch. The person who controls the ball best and shows the most overall potential will have a chance to be in the team. It just turns out that Dorothy (Dee Hepburn), a girl, is the most obvious choice for the open position. Gregory immediately develops a huge crush on her.
Written and directed by Bill Forsyth, what I enjoyed most about “Gregory’s Girl” is its affection toward youth. It seems and feels like every frame is a celebration of being young, making mistakes, and feeling connected with everybody. It does not matter whether a particular person has something good, bad, or nothing much to offer. Emphasis is placed on the value human interaction.
The story is interesting to watch unfold because it is not just about Gregory and what great lengths he is willing go to win Dorothy’s affection. In some ways, the romance between the two is actually one of the least interesting subplots in the film, kept afloat by Sinclair’s charm as an awkward teen with a tendency to ramble. His character is so uncomfortable with girls, he made me squirm in my seat when it comes to some of the things he says to them in order to sound impressive, charming, or “normal.” The harder he tries, the gawkier he comes across. Subtly, there is a lesson about the importance of being oneself. I liked Gregory almost immediately because he might have his share of eccentricities but it is easy to tell that his kindness runs deep.
As much as the material spends time on a boy falling head over heels over a girl, it also turns its attention on friendship. The writer-director shows Gregory interacting with some of the boys in his class. Of particular interest is Steve (Billy Greenlees), a guy who has a talent for cooking and a nose for business. He is popular with the ladies without even trying. One of the most amusing dialogues involves Gregory asking to borrow Steve’s fancy white jacket for a date. I found their friendship sweet and believable. I reckoned it is not really about the jacket and how it looks to other people. It is about Gregory’s comfort, having Steve there with him in spirit as he spends time with the girl of his dreams.
Another fascinating relationship that I wished the picture delved into a bit more is between Gregory and his perspicacious sister, Madeline (Allison Forster). I was moved during their scenes, especially when Madeline volunteers to help her brother shop for nice clothes in preparation for his date. She claims that when other brothers were mean to their siblings, Gregory was nice to her. Helping him out on his first date is her way of giving back to him—for being a good brother. I was impressed because despite the two not having many scenes together, I was able to imagine a history between them. I also wished there were more scenes between Madeline and Richard (Denis Criman), a boy around her age who seems to match her level of maturity.
“Gregory’s Girl” is life-affirming. It could have easily been mired in banality and froth but it is consistently honest with what it wants to do and communicate with its ideas. I am at a loss as to why more filmmakers do not aspire to make movies like this.