[This post contains whiny, brattish SPOILERS!]
In my post about Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants, I sneered at lesser teen movies that posit hooking up with a member of the opposite sex as the be-all and end-all of our existence… and Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging (2008), is an especially egregious example of that breed of vapid, hormonal rom-com, where school serves as nothing more than a dating agency. Director/Co-Writer Gurinder Chadha tries to talk it up as a British version of Clueless or Mean Girls, but in both of those movies the protagonists do actually participate in the occasional class from time to time. ‘Cher’ is obsessed with her grades, even if she prefers to debate her way out of a lull, rather than study her way out of it… and ‘Cady’ is a card-carrying, jacket-wearing Mathlete! In Chadha’s own Bend It Like Beckham (2002), football is the driving passion in Jess’s life, not boys… romance is just an added bonus… a reward for the skill and dedication that she shows on the field, as she struggles against the benignly oppressive prejudices of her family. Would the film have been so successful around the world if it was simply about a celeb-obsessed teenage girl whose sole desire in life was “Snogging Beckham” instead?
I don’t know. All I do know is that ‘Georgia’ (Georgia Groome), the cover star of ATaPS, is a spiteful, self-absorbed, snog-obsessed diva, whose parents bend over backwards to indulge her every whim. The filmmakers seem convinced that she “grows up” and learns a valuable lesson over the course of the story, but really there’s very little evidence of that on-screen. In my The Devil Wears Prada post, I talked about how ‘Andy’ does nothing fundamentally wrong, but still gets treated like crap by all her friends… and here the exact opposite is true! Georgia treats everyone around her like crap, yet they continue to enable and reward her sense of ill-deserved entitlement.
For instance, it’s never actually established why she and her “Ace Girl Gang” refer to their nemesis (played by Kimberley Nixon) as “Slaggy Lindsay”*… or why she’s even their nemesis to begin with! Since this movie was based on a series of popular books, I’ll assume that their feud was fleshed out a lot more in print… but here, it seems like they simply hate her because she has larger boobs than them, and happens to be on hand to make some snarky remarks whenever Georgia messes up. What a monster! And it really would have helped to make the supposed villain of the piece more obviously evil, since the supposed “heroine” spends the entire movie trying to steal her boyfriend away by lying straight to his face, scheming behind his back, and breaking his best-friend’s heart. How endearing! The film keeps trying to sell its lead character as an “ugly duckling” underdog, even when she has two other relatively decent boys chasing after her, and is devoting all of her time and energy to breaking up a seemingly happy couple. And while her parents struggle to keep their marriage afloat after her father gets “promoted” to an office in New Zealand, all Georgia can do is gloat that this will make her mother an easier mark, so she can badger the poor woman into throwing her a pointlessly expensive and extravagant birthday party. Throughout the film Georgia continues to screw with her family’s hearts and minds, by flip-flopping back and forth on the idea of them all moving overseas, depending on whether the boy she fancies is available or not! Gah!
I know most teenagers can be quite myopic and self-centred at times… as can a lot of adults, of course… and there have been plenty of good, engaging movies about unsympathetic protagonists… but you can’t have it both ways. If an unsympathetic character is to be redeemed, then you have to lay the groundwork a lot earlier than they do here, and you have to make the character suffer or sacrifice far more than Georgia does. Sad music plays as she slouches into her father’s former office, and tearfully asks to see his boss so that she can beg him to bring her Daddy home again… but that scene just left me totally cold. Normally my tear-ducts have a hair-trigger, but her sudden change of heart came way too late, and way too out of the blue to evoke any emotion in me… even if, rather implausibly, it was enough to convince the boss to restructure his entire organisation, just to make Georgia smile again. And, yes, her Dad flies halfway around the world, just so he can do a wacky dance at the big birthday party she’d been whining about since we met her. She doesn’t even need to apologise to the friend she kicked for daring to defy her… the girl just turns up at the party smiling and hugging, as if nothing had happened. In fact, the gods adore Georgia so much, they even serve up the broken, defeated Lindsay on a silver platter, for our “heroine” and her stooges to humiliate and humble on stage in front of the entire school. Hurrah?
I’m not saying it’s unrealistic, of course… because we all know that this really is how the world works… “the squeaky wheel”, more often than not, does get the “oil”, and every day we see politicians, bankers and business-types being rewarded for lying, scheming, endangering and defrauding us. But is that really the sort of behaviour we should be encouraging? Is it hopelessly old-fashioned and naïve of me to believe that stories aimed at young, impressionable adults should have a moral to impart, and a social conscience? Answers on the back of an ASBO, to the usual address…
* I couldn’t help recalling the classic scene from Mean Girls, where Tina Fey pleads with her female students to stop calling each other “sluts and whores”, because it just gives the boys permission to call them “sluts and whores” too. Show some solidarity, sister!