Girls kiss and tell it like it is
WELCOME to the tragic universe that is my sad life.’’ The words come from 14- year- old Georgia ( Georgia Groome), an English schoolgirl who lives in the uncool seaside town of Eastbourne with her doting parents, eccentric younger sister and their cat, Angus. Georgia is the central character in a series of nine books by Louise Rennison that have struck a chord with younger readers.
The problems of being an in- between age have been explored in popular culture pretty extensively. Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz sang plaintively about being ‘‘ too old for toys but too young for boys’’.
Today youngsters are far more aware and knowing. In Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging, Georgia and her friends Jas ( Eleanor Tomlinson), Ellen ( Manjeeven Grewal) and Rosie ( Georgia Henshaw) discuss whether to wear oldfashioned knickers or upgrade to thongs. They worry about their potential prowess as snoggers.
This film is based on Rennison’s first two books, adapted by director Gurinder Chadha and three other screenwriters. Chadha’s previous films include Bend It Like Beckham and Bride and Prejudice and she is, above all, a director who wants to entertain and charm audiences. In this she largely succeeds; even if you’re long past the age of the characters in this film, you can enjoy the world of these girls who want, so badly, to become adults.
It’s interesting to compare Chadha’s film with the much more edgy Australian film Hey Hey It’s Esther Blueburger , released earlier this year. Both deal with the problems of girls in roughly the same age group, and both aim for a kind of heightened realism; but whereas the Australian director, Cathy Randall, explored some of the darker areas of peer pressure and teen sexuality, Chadha keeps it all bright and breezy.
Georgia’s problems include the fact that her parents ( Alan Davies, Karen Taylor) still snog, which is pretty disgusting. But mainly she stresses over the fact that she sees herself as a Plain Jane and that she fancies sex god Robbie ( Aaron Johnson), a new arrival in town. Jas, her best friend, starts dating Robbie’s brother Tom ( Sean Bourke) and also starts wearing thongs. To Georgia’s dismay Robbie seems to prefer Lindsay ( Kimberley Nixon), a sexily self- confident blonde.
Georgia resorts to taking snogging lessons from Peter ( Liam Hess), but it’s not the same, of course, and when her father announces that he’s been offered a great job in New Zealand and the family will move there shortly, her carefully balanced world starts to fall apart.
As the much- troubled heroine, Groome gives a lovely performance and there’s not a false note among the cast of young actors. They chatter on and on about trivialities of the greatest concern to them, and their dialogue sounds accurate and well observed. The film’s setting also plays a role: Eastbourne is mainly known as a retirement town and is full of old people, which adds another dimension to the comedy.
* * * THE female characters in the Lebanese film Caramel are older but not always wiser, when it comes to men, than those English teenagers. This very charming movie centres on a hairdressing salon in Beirut, the women who work there and some of their clients. The salon is owned by 30- year- old Layale ( Nadine Labaki, also the film’s director and co- screenwriter). Like almost all unmarried Christian women in Beirut, Layale lives with her parents, but that doesn’t stop her having a secret affair with a married man.
Nisrine ( Yasmine Al Masri), who works in the salon, is about to marry but she has a problem: she is a Muslim, and she lost her virginity some time ago to another man. She will be in big trouble if, on her wedding night, her husband discovers she is ‘‘ damaged goods’’. The only solution is a visit to the hospital for some stitching. Rima ( Joanna Moukarzel) also works in the salon, but she is having difficulty defining her sexuality and she’s attracted to a regular customer. Like Al Masri, Moukarzel is not a professional actor, but she’s very good in this difficult role.
There’s also Jamale ( Gisele Aouad), a customer older than some of the others who is trying rather desperately to stay young. Finally, Rose ( Sihame Haddad), who works nearby as a seamstress, has missed out on marriage because she has dedicated herself to caring for her mentally disturbed sister.
The lives of these women are explored in this very attractive dramatic- comedy; if a film about female friends seems familiar, I can only say that this sweet and touching film shows up all the inadequacies of its American equivalent, Sex and the City . These women face real problems in a society that tolerates different faiths but still demands adherence to a strict code of conduct.
The title refers to the mixture of sugar, lemon juice and water used to remove hair. It all looks rather unpleasant. But of course the concoction also suggests the themes of the film: a mixture of sweet and sour, happiness and heartbreak.
This is quite an achievement for Labaki, who depicts her characters with affection and intelligence. She reveals a lot about the hypocrisies of these communities, both Muslim and Christian, and how contemporary women are forced to deal with and adapt to problems on an everyday basis. It’s one of the best films about women you’re likely to see this year.
Not a false note: The young cast of Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging