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Synopsis: Twenty-two-year-old Georgy (Lynn Redgrave) wants nothing more than to be glamorous and carefree, but unfortunately she is trapped in an awkward, plain, and decidedly unglamorous body. Her father Ted (Bill Owen) is pushing her to show more gratitude towards his boss, millionaire James Leamington (James Mason), who has been like a second father to Georgy and financed her upbringing and education; but now that Georgy has grown into a woman, Mr. Leamington’s affections have become more than fatherly, unbeknownst to Ted. Longing for love but undesiring of Mr. Leamington’s attention, Georgy lives vicariously through her sexy and sophisticated roommate Meredith (Charlotte Rampling) and pines for the affections of Meredith’s boyfriend Jos (Alan Bates). But everything changes when Meredith announces she’s pregnant and intends to keep the baby. How long can Georgy continue to bask in the glow of Jos and Meredith’s happiness before three becomes a crowd?
In a large and illustrious acting dynasty which (so far) spans four generations, Lynn has always been my favorite Redgrave. I wish I had some scientific or educated explanation as to why this is, but in truth it is based solely on her appearance in two films from 2002: Unconditional Love, which stars Kathy Bates as a repressed housewife who teams up with a grieving Rupert Everett to hunt down the killer of her favorite Barry Manilow-esque singer, who happens to have been Everett’s gay lover; and Anita and Me, a charming coming-of-age tale about a young Indian girl growing up in a small British mining village in the 1970s. They’re both comedies and Redgrave plays pretty goofy roles in both of them, something that endeared her to me from the start. I followed her fight against breast cancer and was extremely saddened to hear of her passing. Sometimes you just take a shine to an actor without knowing very much about them; watching Georgy Girl, the 1966 Silvio Narizzano film for which Redgrave is arguably best known, was my attempt to learn more. I only wish it had been a more positive experience.
I want more of this Georgy and less of the “I’m so hideous and no one will ever love me” Georgy.
While Georgy Girl promotes itself as a light-hearted comedy, if you take the Barbie pink DVD case and “You’re gonna make it after all!”-esque poster art as any indication (not to mention the unapologetically catchy theme tune by The Seekers), in reality it is quite a depressing and indecisive little film about a sensitive girl surrounded on all sides by dangerously irresponsible people. Georgy is woefully inexperienced in the ways of love, and dowdy as all get-out, but she has a big spirit bursting with creativity, as is evidenced by her lightning-fast verbal quips in sparring matches with her father and the way she positively beams with life when she’s giving music lessons to the neighborhood children, who adore her. Yet any chance she may have of discovering a sense of self-worth is dashed by her association with the drop-dead gorgeous and devastatingly aloof Meredith, who embodies the waif-thin Swinging Sixties girl to a tee. This is a notable early performance by British-French actress Charlotte Rampling, best known to American audiences for her role in Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories (1980) and in Sidney Lumet’s The Verdict (1982) opposite Paul Newman, and more recently in films such as Swimming Pool (2003) and Never Let Me Go (2010).
Georgy develops a crush on Meredith’s boyfriend Jos, which is understandable. First of all, he’s there all the time, taking baths with the door wide open and whatnot, so it’s no surprise that the love-starved Georgy would be tempted. Secondly, he’s always waiting around like a lonely puppy for the self-centered and fickle Meredith, making it appear as though he’s being mistreated (although I’ll argue in a second why the two of them are actually perfect for each other). Third and most importantly, his spirit is as bold and brimming with life as Georgy’s own, which I feel is their essential bond; they’re both larger-than-life people with a lot of love to give. The problem with Jos, however, is the same as the problem with Meredith: they’re both completely self-obsessed and positively allergic to any sense of long-term responsibility. When Meredith gets pregnant, she decides to keep the baby in the same way someone might decide to change their hair color (she’s already had two abortions previous to this, much to Jos’ surprise), and seems on the verge of giving up the endeavor all throughout the pregnancy, but only sticks with it because it means Georgy and Jos wait on her hand and foot (which she also tires of quickly). Jos, meanwhile, marries Meredith in a sense of duty to the baby, but gets sick of her tempestuous behavior fairly quickly, until one night in the middle of an argument he randomly kisses Georgy, serendipitously discovering that it is actually she who he’s in love with. The issue of being married to another woman who is currently carrying his child presents no problem for Jos, because now that he’s found a new thing to be excited about he is completely blind to any obstacles in the way of his love for Georgy (including Georgy’s own reluctance – she runs through all of London trying to get away from him!).
Quick, Georgy, while his whim-centers are rebooting! RUN! RUN WHILE YOU CAN!
I don’t want to spoil too much of the rest, but basically poor Georgy is left to pick up the pieces of Meredith and Jos’ whims, and has to do her best to make a life for herself out of the scraps of other peoples’ lives. Happily, it sort of turns out like a lot of my trips to Good Will; somebody has given away a perfectly wonderful pair of rollerskates, the likes of which I’ve always wanted. However, for an audience who longs to see the lovable and sympathetic Georgy turn out happy in the end, the practical choice she makes to settle for the best option available to her isn’t exactly satisfying. It’s almost as if Georgy Girl is just the first half of a very long movie, the second half of which looks much more promising (partially because it’s not filled with a bunch of irritating immature commitment-phobes).
Despite my problems with the plot, I thought technically it was a well-made and well-acted film. Lynn Redgrave definitely stands out as the star; even if her physical beauty pales next to Charlotte Rampling’s, her vivacity does not. Rampling as the atrociously horrid Meredith made me cringe, in a good way. I haven’t spoken much about James Mason as the millionaire Mr. Leamington, but he gave a restrained performance that perfectly suited the tone befitting his character’s role in the picture. (Bit confused about his accent, though – was he always Scottish, or did he just turn Scottish when he was drunk?) My only problem was with Alan Bates, although it was a pretty big problem. I had no issue with Bates’ performance as an actor, but the character of Jos was so utterly repulsive to me that I couldn’t wait for him to get off screen most of the time. He was a huge ball of energy confined to one tiny man that could not possibly contain himself and was in danger of bursting at any moment. Call me high-strung, but Jos’ proclivity for huge movements in tiny spaces made me physically anxious. (It’s the same reason why I can’t watch “Mork & Mindy” – I’m always terrified Robin Williams is going to take it one step too far and break somebody’s nose.) Combined with Jos’ one-track mind and inability to hold a serious conversation, I just found him completely grating and repellent, which, because he was such a big part of the film, made my movie-watching experience fairly unpleasant.
Maybe she genuinely can’t hear her baby crying under that helmet hair.
Georgy Girl isn’t a film I want to watch a second time, but I’m glad I got to see it. If anything, the story is unexpected and the performances interesting to watch. Lynn Redgrave is wonderfully unpretentious and endearing in her full-on embodiment of an awkward working-class girl. It was refreshing to see such an unglamorous character take center stage – I just wish some of the other characters could’ve kept it down in front a little better.
Georgy Girl (1966) – 2.5/5 stars