Review: Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging (2008 UK, 2010 US)

The character in “Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging” with which I most identify is, obviously, the doughy, goofy, more-than-slightly embarrassing dad, played by Alan Davies. Except Davies’ character seems more at ease with seeing his daughter barrel headfirst into adolescence than I think I ever will be; there were times during “Perfect Snogging” that I, the parent of a girl inching her way toward puberty, viewed it as a horror film.

Ah, but it’s such a sweet, funny movie, too, completely honest about hormones and young love and sexual curiosity. It also completely unravels in the final act as it gives in to the tween-flick clichés of impossibly big parties and the comeuppances of bitchy rivals, but no matter: until then, it’s an absolute delight.

As some of you younger readers already know, the film is based on the first two books in Louise Rennison’s “Confessions of Georgia Nicholson” series. Being neither thirteen years old nor a girl, I have not read them; if I had, I’m sure I’d have been just as baffled by the slang as I was while watching the movie. (What is it with girls and words like “whatevs”?) But I appreciate seeing how “Heathers” has influenced a new generation, what with all the sharp dialogue and clever phrasing (that, mercifully, never falls into the trap of “Juno” show-offery), that I smiled during all that befuddlement.

The story is classic teen drama: Georgia (played by Georgia Groome, displaying an effortless charm) falls for new kid in school Robbie (Aaron Johnson), but alas, he’s dating slutty, snooty Lindsay (Kimberley Nixon). Meanwhile, Georgia’s best mate Jas (Eleanor Tomlinson) has begun dating Robbie’s brother Tom (Sean Burke), and does that mean she won’t have time to spend with Georgia anymore? And then there’s Georgia’s dad, who’s sent off to New Zealand for work; will this mean her mom (Karen Taylor) will set her sights on another man? Oh, the drama!

It’s the attitude that carries us through. It’d be so easy for this movie to trip all over itself, what with all the tired plot points like the one where Georgia dates another boy to make Robbie jealous, or the one where Georgia and Jas concoct a “lost cat” scheme to earn the boys’ attention, or the one where snooty Lindsay schedules her birthday party the same day as Georgia’s. There’s nothing in “Perfect Snogging” we haven’t seen before, but Chadra and her cast find the right approach, carefully balancing good humor and a certain seriousness in their approach to each teen crisis.

Director Gurinder Chadra always brought a certain pep to her films (“Bend It Like Beckham,” “Bride and Prejudice,” and “What’s Cooking?”), but even so, I never found much to like about those works. Here, her pep fits. There’s a lightness to the mood and a whimsy to the screenplay (Chadra is among the four writers credited with the adaptation) that presents both sincerity and silliness – the right mix for such a teen-centric comedy.

And while the plot is no great shakes, the detail of character is magnificent, bringing us squarely into Georgia’s world. There are times when the fantasy threatens to overwhelm the story, but strong performances and a simple directness keeps us grounded; parents might get lost in Georgia’s quest to become “a snogging sensation” (while daughters, naturally, will enjoy such fancies), but all ages will understand the truth behind such lines as “boys don’t rate girls for funniness.” (Don’t worry, Georgia – one day you’ll find a boy that does.)

There’s a frankness to its handling of sex that might throw some parents for a loop (the whole thongs thing? oh, dear!), but it’s true to the characters and their modern world. And there’s a lot to like here, as the film walks its sweetheart characters through their first loves with endearing humor. “Perfect Snogging” is handcrafted for teen and tween girls – I’m sure it’ll earn constant rotation at slumber parties – but grown-ups will admire it, too.

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