The opening scene of Bill Forsyth’s cult-classic teen comedy Gregory’s Girl sets audience expectations for something much crasser and more irritating than what’s ultimately delivered. A group of horny high school nerds spy on a nurse via telescope as she changes out of her uniform in a hospital window. They hoot & guffaw at the shared sight of naked breasts, as if it were the opening to a Scottish version of Porky’s. It’s incredible, then, that the film that follows is such an earnestly sweet, heartwarming examination of pubescent awkwardness, not a ribald romp about bouncing boobies & lost virginities. In fact, the main thrust of Gregory’s Girl is in reforming the social & sexual awkwardness of those boys instead of drooling over women’s bodies along with them. It’s less of a teen sex comedy than it is a romantic heist film, wherein a gang of small-town Scottish girls conspire to hijack & reform the sexual attentions of the neighborhood boys so they can walk away with more charming, better socialized dates than the drooling idiots we’re introduced to.
Like with most eccentric comedies of the era, the characters who populate Gregory’s Girl are each fixated on a singular personal obsession: photography, cooking, window washing, soccer, etc. The gangly teenager Gregory’s obsession just happens to be another human being, as he develops a major crush on a girl on his soccer team who’s a much better athlete (and much better socialized) than him. The conspiratorial heist portion of the film involves a group of fellow teens breaking Gregory out of his fixation on this girl, who’s way more interested in playing soccer than she is in his goofball ass. There’s often an all-or-nothing singular obsession to hormone-addled teenage crushes, and most of the film dwells on that period of horse-blinders fixation. Watching Gregory become deprogrammed from his own romantic self-brainwashing is a major relief from the dumbass teen-boy behavior of the first hour, and it’s outright miraculous a movie this small in scope & budget taps into an observation so sweetly profound.
It’s a testament to John Gordon Sinclair’s central performance that Gregory remains an adorable goof long before he’s deprogrammed. His awkwardness in his own acne-riddled skin and unwieldy noodle body is consistently hilarious from the start, even when he’s just failing to look comfortable & confident sitting in a chair or crossing a road. He plays the part with the same energetic juvenalia as a Pee-wee Herman or Mr. Bean performance. It’s an absolutely lovely caricature of pubescent awkwardness, perfectly capturing the adorable but embarrassing stretch where you don’t know what to do with your body or your heart. The low-key absurdist humor of the world he awkwardly navigates also reminded me a lot of Better Off Dead & Rock n Roll High School—two of my all-time favorite high school comedies—in the matter-of-fact inclusion of students smoking pipes & playing chess in the boys room or aimlessly wandering the halls in a penguin costume as if it were a standard matter of course. Those subtly absurdist delights are just as difficult to convey to the uninitiated as the romantic sleight-of-hand of the film’s heist climax, but it’s movie magic alchemy all the same – turning horny teen-boy awkwardness into pure Scottish charm.
It’s nearly impossible to be hard on Anna and the Moods, an animated short children’s film from 2007. It’s not perfect, but it is perfectly charming. Because the title character was voiced by the musician Björk I expected a story about a young girl singer in a rock band called The Moods. Instead I was treated to a quirky, compassionate take on puberty and what The Fresh Prince would call The “Parents Just Don’t Understand” Dilemma.
Anna and the Moods tells the story of a young girl who is expected to be consistently cheerful & obedient by her family, which she does willingly until she one day wakes up transformed. No longer a sentient beam of sunshine, Anna finds herself plagued by “moodicles” (hormone-induced moods). Her image shifts from that of a precious little girl to a moody goth teen and she decides to freak her parents out instead of playing to their expectations. She smokes cigars, commits petty crimes, listens to loud music, and develops a questionable taste in boys. Disturbed, Anna’s parents subject her to psychological evaluation, where a doctor, to their horror, diagnoses her as a “teenager”. Instead of prescribing her a solution to the newfound shifts in her mood, the doctor teaches Anna how to deal with flawed parenting. The movie takes a mischievous stance on the sudden changes that come with puberty, encouraging kids to misbehave, but also warning them that their parents are going to be jerks about it.
Directed by one of Björk’s former bandmates from the alt rock group The Sugarcubes, Anna and the Moods works with some hideously cheap CGI, but uses the handicap to its advantage. The characters look like snotty versions of Margaret Keane’s “big eyes” paintings and the whole picture has a bending, warped surreality to it that fits the puberty-altered mindset of its subject well. Monty Python veteran Terry Jones narrates with a perfectly measured children’s book tone that makes the movie’s less successful elements (like an unnecessary potshot at Michael Jackson) more than forgivable. It’s not a complicated or even a good-looking film, but as a short, fun trifle with an empathetic message & a sense of mischief, it’s sincerely entertaining.