Teenage girlhood and coming-of-age is an oft explored topic in the realm of cinema, with many American teen films standing on their own as must-watches for any cinema-fan. Ranging from comedic satires on interpersonal female relationships and self-growth, such as Mean Girls (2004) and Clueless (1995), to John Hughes’ problematic offerings Sixteen Candles (1984) and Pretty in Pink (1986), the teenage girl is a well-known protagonist who invites the audience to share in the trials of growing up, as she deals with body woes, overbearing parents and romantic relationships. While recent offerings such as The Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015) and Lady Bird (2018) craft more introspective stories. It could be argued that up until the late naughties, American teen films were missing the mark in their presentation of teenage girlhood, glossing over the more messy and complicated aspects of being a teenage girl and introducing characters that were relatable to an extent, but certainly not real.
In order to find such a presentation of teenage girlhood at the time, one would have to look across the pond at Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging. Directed by Gurinder Chadha and released in the summer of 2008, Angus was Nickelodeon’s first PG-13 release. Following 14-year-old Georgia (Georgia Groome) as she navigates embarrassing parents, body insecurities and unstable friendships while attempting to woo Robbie (Aaron Johnson), the new boy in school, the film was praised for its humour, honesty and Groome’s lead performance.
Aside from its British setting, Angus differed from American offerings because of its unique presentation of teenage girlhood. Georgia and her friends awkwardly deal with new found feelings and attractions with a level of hilarity and embarrassment that would have normally been reserved for male characters. Allowed to be gross and even slightly objectifying towards their love interests, while simultaneously navigating body hang-ups and strained friendships, I would argue that Georgia and her Ace Gang provide a purer representation of the teenage girl experience as a whole in comparison to other films up until that point.
In one of the film’s earliest moments, Georgia and her friends Jas (Eleanor Tomlinson), Ellen (Manjeevan Grewal) and Rosie (Georgia Henshaw) can be seen sitting on their hands in the school yard. Rosie says “now, when your hands are numb, lift them up to your bazoomas and press”. The other girls react with glee and delight, with the general consensus being that it doesn’t feel like their own hands at all. It is then that Georgia and Jas eagerly tell the girls about their newly-constructed “Snogging Scale”, which charts every romantic act from “holding hands”, right up to “upper-body fondling (outdoors)” before they are interrupted by the arrival of Robbie, the new object of Georgia’s affections, who is promptly refered to as a “sex god”.
The treatment of hormones and teenage relationships is one of the many aspects that sets the film apart from its American cousins. Delicately balancing perverse fascination with childlike disgust, the teenagers in Angus are portrayed as knowing everything yet nothing at the same time. Georgia squeals in embarrassment at the thought of French kissing, yet goes “jelloid” at the sight of Robbie. Despite her attempts to appear wise and knowledgeable, her and her friends still dedicate a portion of their time to “boy stalking”. Her first kiss, rather than being the sublime fireworks moment that is so often shown in cinema, is instead with kissing tutor, Peter Dyer (Liam Hess). The moment is awkward, filled with an abundance of slurpy mouth noises, and when Georgia and Peter pull away from one another, a trail of saliva is attached to their mouths, in a moment more likely to appear in The Inbetweeners than a romantic-comedy aimed at young teenage girls.
The most jarring way in which Angus differs in its presentation of attraction is the way in which Georgia and her friends sexualise and ogle the boys and men in their lives. The first moment in which Robbie and his brother Tom (Sean Bourke) appear, there is a shift in music, as the Ace Gang stare, jaws dropped, with phrases such as “phroar” and “sex gods” intermittently stated throughout. Later on in the film, Georgia’s friends crowd around Jem (Steve Jones) as he uncorks a bottle whilst shirtless. Once again, the girls’ mouths are agape as they stare at the handyman, in a moment reminiscent of a Diet Coke advertisement. Despite the comedic elements, both scenes are undeniably sexually charged, rather than romantically charged, illustrating how the Ace Gang are concerned with matters of kissing, sex and appearances rather the notion of pure love that would have been commonly promoted in American films that were targeted at the same age group.
Georgia’s unhappiness with her appearance is a major plot element in the film. Shackled with a nose that is the “size of Jupiter”, the choice to cast teenage actresses with actual teenage bodies serves to aid this plot point, prompting recognition and empathy in a more satisfying fashion, in comparison to American teen films, which tended to cast older actors at that time. When Rachel McAdams, a grown woman of model-like proportions, laments her “man shoulders” in Mean Girls, the audience is invited to laugh. Whereas when Georgia scrutinises her nose, Jas complains about her small breasts and Ellen agonizes over her dark hair, teenage spectators are able to acknowledge their shared insecurities with the characters on screen, because the characters look as teenage girls should.
A significant reason why Angus succeeds in bringing a realistic representation of teenage girlhood to the big screen is the fact that the core drama of the film lies between Georgia and her immediate friend group, rather than with a supreme archetypal popular girl who rules the school; a typical trait in most female-led teen films. While such an antagonist does exist in the form of “Slaggy” Lindsay (Kimberly Nixon), she acts as a mere foil to the true source of drama; the precarious nature of young female relationships.
Angus opens to Georgia arriving at a costume party to find that every member of the Ace Gang has bailed on a comical group hors d’oeuvre costume in favour of sexy cats and angels. Dressed as an olive and informed that “boys don’t rate girls for funniness”, Georgia leaves the party in tears, instigating the main plot of the film as she strives to be a new and more mature version of herself. In a pivotal scene, Georgia and her friends participate in an attractiveness test, in which they each rate aspects of each other’s appearance out of ten. Anonymously given a 4 for her nose, Georgia’s insecurity only worsens. The scene serves to remind us of a fact well known by most teenage girls; everyone is a bit of an arsehole, even to those they care about. This unstable comradery comes to a head with a fight between Georgia and Jas, where the former kicks the latter in the shin. Instigated by Georgia’s poor treatment of Dave the Laugh, this argument is an example of the petty arguments that occur when one is a teenager, and how they can spiral out of control.
Flawed and selfish, Georgia whines and shouts throughout the majority of the film. Possessing a terrible sense of right and wrong and a victim complex to boot, technically, for all intents and purposes, she could be interpreted as quite unlikeable. It is the prominence of these negative traits that make her more akin to a real teenage girl than any other representation on screen. The point being, every teenage girl is an idiot, until she grows up. By allowing Georgia to be this problematic figure, she is the quirky girl next door, the lovestruck teen and the high school bully rolled into one. She is complex, frustrating, hormonal and undeniably, human. In 2008, there truly wasn’t another character like her, and there certainly wasn’t another film like Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging. Badly aged jokes and overall cringyness aside, there’s a reason it remains in the thoughts of many 20-something women to this day.
by Amy Louise
Amy Louise O’Callaghan is a filmmaker and illustrator from the tiny city of Cork, Ireland. When she’s not watching films, she enjoys drawing and playing lots of video games, but never actually finishing them. Some of her favourite films include Heathers, Carrie, Suspiria (1977) and The Little Mermaid. She’ll watch almost anything, but particularly enjoys cheesy horror films and anything from the teen genre. You can follow her on Twitter here and on Letterboxd