Following on from the recent rerelease of his 1979 debut That Sinking Feeling, Bill Forsyth’s teen rom-com Gregory’s Girl (1981) has also undergone a similar digital upgrade to its predecessor. However, underneath the (admittedly) outstanding transfer, Gregory’s Girl remains that same delightful and hugely appealing coming-of-age tale which managed to transcend its parochial setting and go on to achieve global success and recognition. The first thing which instantly chimes upon revisiting is Forsyth’s considerable knack for casting. This is a British film where teenagers actually look like real adolescents, and not just the usual air-brushed, blemish-free screen representations.
These teens are acne-scarred and awkward-looking, particularly the gangly and affectionately goofy lead John Gordon-Sinclair, whose bouncy, gravity-defying mullet is a thing of beauty. His character, Gregory Underwood, is a football-mad drumming enthusiast whose skills in both disciplines leave a lot to be deserved. Relegated to goalie on the school team, the object of Gregory’s affection comes in the shapely form of new addition to the side and his replacement as striker, Dorothy (Dee Hepburn). She’s a stunner, replete with Farrah Fawcett-like feathered bangs and a nifty right foot. The affable Gregory is only too happy to be demoted if it means having Dorothy around. Thus begins an obsession with the lovelorn teen forever proclaiming his love for his fellow team-mate amongst his hormonal pals.
The path of true love may not run smooth for Gregory, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be surprises for him along the way. Forsyth’s wonderfully wry Bafta-winning script is loaded with some truly magical incidental moments (Gregory’s entrepreneurial cake-making friend runs a tuck shop from the deeply unsanitary confines of a cubical in the school toilets), and the film’s influence across future genre efforts is undeniable. What resonates most deeply, however, is the effortless and easy-going charm Forsyth brings, filtered through to his wonderful protagonist. Gregory’s love is of the unrequited kind, but rather than dwell on the hurt and anguish that can bring, the director opts for showing a sunnier, yet no less realistic alternative. It’s this approach which is undoubtedly an attributed factor to the Gregory’s Girl’s longevity. Young love can be painful, but it needn’t be paralysing.