God Help the Girl (2014)
A Musical Film by Stuart Murdoch
There have been countless musical pictures throughout the history of film, from the Julie Andrews classics The Sound of Music (1965) and Mary Poppins (1964), to the 50’s and 60’s inspired sounds of Grease (1978) and Hairspray (2007), let’s not forget the popular 2006 teen sensation High School Musical. Why, even horror buffs have been musically catered for with The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) and Darren Lynn Bousman’s, Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008). Evidentially, hipsters have been crying out for their own musical too, seeing as Stuart Murdoch’s God Bless the Girl was partly produced by a public Kickstarter campaign. Back in 2009, indie Scottish pop band, Belle and Sebastian, released an album titled God Help the Girl, featuring a collection of songs which frontman Stuart Murdoch planned to utilize for an indie musical he was planning to write and direct. After acquiring funding from producer Barry Mendel, Whip It (2009), and several fans, the publically produced God Help the Girl became a reality.
Centering on a young lady who is struggling with anorexia, God Help the Girl takes place in Glasgow, Scotland, where the depressed Eve (Emily Browning), attempts to get her life back on track over the course of a dreamy Glaswegian summer by focusing on her song writing skills. Although this whimsical idea may sound promising on paper, Murdoch’s directorial debut is somewhat empty and hollow. The picture effectively plays out like a Belle and Sebastian album come to life as every scene bears a resemblance to a perfectly choreographed music video, with character development and plot, coming secondary to flashy 60’s and 70’s inspired visuals and wistful pop musical interludes.
Emily Browning, Sucker Punch (2011), portrays Eve, a young songwriter who’s undergoing treatment at a Glasgow hospital, and has become somewhat notorious for sneaking out of her window in order to catch gigs performed by unsigned bands at a local club. Browning is perhaps the picture’s biggest asset as she emits lively energy throughout the feature, delivering the right amount of flair and caution needed to bring her musically gifted character to life. Browning is completely fixating, from the moment we first lay eyes on her, she consumes the screen as she sings and dances her way through life’s ups and downs. Furthermore, Browning’s musical abilities are rather impressive, resulting in some memorable well-crafted tunes throughout the picture.
One day Eve meets the progressive James (Olly Alexander) — a downtrodden English guitar player who’s in need of inspiration and band members — and, with nowhere to go, moves into the spare room of his flat; inevitably the pair start writing and playing music together. The reedy Olly Alexander, Enter the Void (2009), is the perfect embodiment of a contemporary hipster — complete with tight-fitting jeans and oversized thick rimmed glasses — and brings an authentic nerdy resilience to his shaggy character, who is perhaps playing stand-in for Murdoch. Eventually, the twosome opt to employ a third member to their ‘group’ and recruit the scatterbrained Cassie (Hannah Murray), a rich student of James’ who is aching for entertainment over the warm holiday season. Together the trio form an unnamed band and sing their way through an unforgettable summer, filled with bubble-gum music, friendship and laughter.
Regrettably Murdoch’s screenplay is relatively dreary, as God Help the Girl lacks deep character insight or a tangible conflict, bar the mandatory unrequited love subplot — as James has feelings for Eve, who is in turn, sleeping with sexy Swiss-German rocker, Anton (Pierre Boulanger). With the band’s formation feeling insubstantial as a narrative focus, God Help the Girl generally comes across as airy filler for the majority of the time as we spend the duration of the film watching the crew kayak along the River Clyde or discuss the way they want their music to sound — perhaps included for Murdoch’s own amusement — and the result comes off as somewhat pretentious or self-indulging above anything else.
On the contrast, visually, God Help the Girl is a fairly quirky or surreal experience, playing out like a big music video, it’s bright, melancholy and easy on the eyes — our leads all exhibit distinct charms and are commonly seen striking ‘cute’ poses while clad in the latest hipster fashion — as cinematographer Giles Nuttgens, Perfect Sense (2011), captures the vintage essence of Murdoch’s melodies with his edgy camera work. Whilst contemporary, God Help the Girl embodies a retro aesthetic for the most part and Murdoch’s appreciation for old-school music is evident through various shots concerning cassette tapes and records, opposed to today’s digital technology.
In terms of melodies, the film’s soundtrack features songs that appeared on the initial God Help the Girl album but have been re-mixed and re-recorded by the film’s talented cast. Three new tracks written by Murdoch — which are also sung by the cast — have been added, ‘Pretty When the Wind Blows,’ ‘I’m Not Rich’ and ‘I Dumped You First.’ A couple of musical numbers, however, are quite successful at reinforcing character connections, ‘I’ll Have to Dance With Cassie’ and the charming ‘Down and Dusky Blonde,’ both being visual highlights, whilst standing out as some of the flick’s finer moments. Above all, a new version of ‘God Help the Girl’ has been recorded by Belle and Sebastian and sung by Browning, while Belle and Sebastian’s original version of ‘Dress Up in You’ appears in the closing titles. In spite of this, my particular favorite tune is the drearisome re-rendition of ‘I Just Want Your Jeans,’ performed by gorgeous Hannah Murray.
Murdoch’s vanity project, God Help the Girl — a musical coming-of-age story — is a perfectly pleasant blast of cloying indie escapism, rapidly skipping between joyful bliss to murky sadness, and is perhaps most rewarding if you’re that way inclined. While destined to become a cult hit amongst its target twenty-something demographic, God Help the Girl could have soared — given the talented Browning and the folksy sounds of Belle and Sebastian — had the picture offered more than just a bunch of arty music videos, stitched together by an excruciatingly thin story line.
3 / 5 – Good
Reviewed by Mr. Movie
God Help the Girl is released through Transmission Films Australia