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TORONTO REVIEW: Growing up with Mature "Gregory's Two Girls"

Indiewire By Indiewire | Indiewire September 14, 1999 at 2:0AM

TORONTO REVIEW: Growing up with Mature "Gregory's Two Girls"
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TORONTO REVIEW: Growing up with Mature "Gregory's Two Girls"

by Ray Pride




"Gregory's Two Girls" is mature work from a filmmaker whose films are
too few and far between. While Bill Forsyth has written other scripts,
this is his first film to make it to the screen since 1993's "Being
Human
," a Robin Williams-starring omnibus that got scant U.S. release by
Warner Bros. His new 3.1 million pound film is a weave of stories rather
than a bravura work like his melancholy masterpiece of mood and tone,
1987's "Housekeeping." Forsyth claims the writing-finance-production
cycle takes him four to four and a half years each time, and that he's
"only a little behind schedule" with this one.


"Gregory's Two Girls" is a sequel mostly in name. The gangly,
crush-prone schoolboy Gregory (John Gordon Sinclair) of "Gregory's
Girl
," Forsyth's 1981 charmer, has grown up to be a teacher at the same
school -- "Mr. Underwood" is a name he hates. Greg remains a dreamer:
he's got a crush on one of his underage students, Frances (the winsome
Carly McKinnon) and one of his colleagues, Bel (Maria Doyle Kennedy) who
nourishes a years-long flame for him with stalkerish tendencies. ("I'm a
giving person, Greg! But you won't let me give!")


Sinclair's Greg is a tall, giddy goose, prone to fits of social
mortification, a typical, frightened modern male. He teaches his English
students with samples from journalism about social injustice more often
than the classics. In a marvelous, typical Forsyth touch, Gregory quotes
Nabokov to Frances, who, sitting beside him in plaid-skirted school uniform
on a park bench shortly muses, "He's the guy who wrote 'Lolita'?" and
only a moment later corrects his Russian pronunciation of the writer's
name.


People talk sense in Forsyth's world. And confounding as it may be, the
romantic entanglements and self-defeating acts are those of people we
either know or would want to know. The playfully tossed-off talk
beguiles, at once ironic and affectionate: "Let's assume I know nothing
and start from there"; and after a first night in bed, a woman's cry
against sudden sentimentality, "Let's have a few good times before we
get all dewy-eyed"; and a corporado's cynical claim, "The week after the
wheel was invented, someone was tied to one-that's technology."


Forsyth claims that he writes what's on his mind when the blank page is
in front of him, and he's obviously had the time to do a lot of reading
and thinking since he last got a film made. The plot is complicated by
Greg's teaching his students they should become involved in political
action. But he's the sort who will quote Noam Chomsky, but is more
likely to watch the political theorist on video than act on any of his
urgent calls to action. Frances encourages Greg to turn "tartan
terrorist," and the plot takes the movie in a charmingly odd direction,
becoming a romantic farce about state secrets and corporate abuse of
smaller, poorer countries. What is the responsibility of each citizen,
of corporate capitalism and sovereign nations? And why can't I get that
student of mine with the big ears and the gleaming blue eyes out of my
head? An affectionate Scots comedy about dialectics and desire: who
would have thought it? And in the U.S., who would finance such a film
from an American director? The romantically muzzy cinematography is by
John de Borman and Michael Gibbs' score is the sort of lightly jazzy
embellishment that Forsyth tends to favor.


"Gregory's Two Girls" is one of the creamy crop of tasty movies coming
from the U.K.'s FilmFour (the lovely, anecdotal "Sugar Town" and Tim
Roth's magnificently crafted "The War Zone" are other examples), and
while superb work, it's difficult to imagine contemporary acquisitions
people knowing what to make of it. Forsyth examines the world within
while his characters prate charmingly about the world outside, and his
unique charm and effortless cosmopolitanism is a too-rare quantity on
U.S. screens.


[Ray Pride is a contributing editor to Filmmaker and longtime film
critic for Chicago's Newcity. He writes about movies for many other
publications, including Playboy Online. He is also a screenwriter and
filmmaker.]





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