Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging

Thongs are few, there's more yakking about than actual snogging, and Angus the feral cat steals all his scenes in "Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging," a good-natured bundle of early-teen femme angst pitched squarely at the youngsters who've made Louise Rennison's books a hit both sides of the Pond.

With:
With: Georgia Groome, Alan Davies, Karen Taylor, Aaron Johnson, Steve Jones, Eleanor Tomlinson, Manjeevan Grewal, Georgia Henshaw, Sean Bourke, Kimberley Nixon, Liam Hess, Tommy Bastow, Eva Drew.

Thongs are few, there’s more yakking about than actual snogging, and Angus the feral cat steals all his scenes in “Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging,” a good-natured bundle of early-teen femme angst pitched squarely at the youngsters who’ve made Louise Rennison’s books a hit both sides of the Pond. Preserving much of the humor, if not the wackier tone, of the originals, and helmed by Gurinder Chadha with a kind of sophomoric, sisterly glee, very British pic should score with its target aud as a summer attraction, given robust marketing; Stateside, it’s more of a specialty attraction.

Pic will roll out across Europe following its July 25 bow in Blighty. U.S. release date has yet to be set by Par.

Largely based on the first two of Rennison’s nine books to date, pic takes the “Bridget Jones’s Diary” route of flattening out the diary-like structure of the originals into a regular narrative, with occasional v.o. by the female protag. Chadha has stated the movie is her own homage to the ’80s movies of John Hughes (especially “Sixteen Candles”), but the often gauche, very English dialogue lacks the well-sculptured bounce of Hughes’ writing, and Rennison’s books have much less plot to work from than even the “Bridget Jones” tomes.

What’s left is a likable potpourri of 14-year-old girls talking about boys, snogging and “old-fashioned” parents, and getting their knickers in a twist over peer pressure.

In a pairing that strongly recalls the characters played by Parminder Nagra and Keira Knightley in Chadha’s “Bend It Like Beckham,” though without their emotional closeness, plain Jane Georgia Nicolson (Georgia Groome, “London to Brighton”) is best pals with willowy blonde Jas (Eleanor Tomlinson). The girls, along with gawky Ellen (Manjeevan Grewal) — changed to an Indian for the movie — and Rosie (Georgia Henshaw), are a self-contained group at a high school in Eastbourne, on England’s south coast.

Georgia, soon to hit 15, obsesses about her looks and inexperience with boys, resents her loving parents (Alan Davies, Karen Taylor) for still calling her “munchkin,” and tolerates her younger sis, Libby (Eva Drew), who thinks she’s a cat. At school, she’s locked in a peer war with sexy bitch-on-wheels Lindsay (Kimberley Nixon). So far, so “Clueless,” Brit-style.

Along come school newcomers and handsome “sex gods” Tom (Sean Bourke) and his brother, Robbie (Aaron Johnson), just moved down from London. While Jas zeroes in on Tom, Georgia sets her sights on Robbie, only to discover, to her dismay, that he’s dating Lindsay.

Pic picks up some comic rhythm in a genuinely funny sequence in which Georgia takes snogging lessons from the ridiculously self-confident Peter (Liam Hess, good). Thereafter, she bonds with Robbie over their shared liking for cats, but the path to her 15th birthday party — on the same date as Lindsay’s — hardly runs smooth.

What they’ve lacked in smoothness and well-chiseled dialogue, Chadha’s previous pics — including her Bollywood homage, “Bride & Prejudice” — have always made up for in sheer effervescence and enjoyable characters. Slickly lensed in widescreen and papered with music and songs, “Angus” is technically her most proficient pic to date, but doesn’t deliver to the same emotional extent in its final reels.

Main problem is Groome’s perf as Georgia, which hits all the comic-angsty buttons but is a tad too knowing and unspontaneous to make the character truly likable. Tomlinson and Grewal are much better in this respect, and on the male side, Johnson and Bourke have an appealing naturalness.

Davies, a well-known TV comedian in Blighty, and Taylor are fine as the parents, and Steve Jones has some fun as a studly builder whom Georgia suspects her mom is falling for while dad’s away in New Zealand.

Whole joke of the action being set in Eastbourne (traditionally seen as a boring retirement zone) is succinctly explained for non-Brit viewers, and scenes actually shot elsewhere (in Brighton and London) are smoothly integrated. Though original book’s “full-frontal” has been replaced in the title by the flatter “perfect” (at Paramount’s request), the adjective survives in the characters’ dialogue.

Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging

U.K.-U.S.

Production: A Paramount (in U.S./U.K.) release of a Paramount Pictures Intl. (U.K.)/Nickelodeon Movies (U.S.) presentation, in association with Goldcrest Pictures. Produced by Gurinder Chadha, Lynda Obst. Executive producer, Scott Aversano. Co-producer, Michelle Fox. Directed by Gurinder Chadha. Screenplay, Chadha, Paul Mayeda Berges, Will McRobb, Chris Viscardi, based on the books "Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging" and "It's OK, I'm Wearing Really Big Knickers!" by Louise Rennison.

Crew: Camera (Deluxe color, Panavision widescreen), Richard Pope; editors, Martin Walsh, Justin Krish; music, Joby Talbot; production designer, Nick Ellis; supervising art director, Mark Scruton; art director, David Morison; costume designer, Jill Taylor; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS Digital/SDDS), Tim Fraser; assistant director, Guy Heeley; casting, Carrie Hilton. Reviewed at Empire, London, July 16, 2008. Running time: 99 MIN.

With: With: Georgia Groome, Alan Davies, Karen Taylor, Aaron Johnson, Steve Jones, Eleanor Tomlinson, Manjeevan Grewal, Georgia Henshaw, Sean Bourke, Kimberley Nixon, Liam Hess, Tommy Bastow, Eva Drew.

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