God Help the Girl
You’d think he’d settle for being a musical icon: for most that would be more than enough. Yet an army of adoring fans and a back catalogue of soulful classics is apparently too little for Stuart Murdoch, better known for leading indie music favourites Belle and Sebastian. He’s only gone and put everyone in the shade even more by writing and directing a Glasgow-set musical. And while the story struggles to stand alone, the songs bring enough breezy joy for everyone.
The film centres on Eve (Emily Browning), a severely depressed young woman in Glasgow who’s in hospital after starving herself. Her only outlet is song writing, something she’s initially unsure about pursuing. Continually battling her illness, she escapes and finds the equally lost James (Olly Alexander) and his friend Cassie (Hannah Murray), the trio forming a band that threatens to provide some direction for them all.
Tentative romance, mental illness and the urge to create swirl around in the background, but God Help the Girl is all about the songs. Opening with Eve singing her way out of the hospital, it never lets up as they launch into a series of songs about everyday life that rarely dip in quality. Already a critically-acclaimed album, the music transfers over wonderfully supported by offbeat and energetic choreography.
Browning is the standout performer switching consummately between troubled young woman and exuberant singer. The others fare less well, struggling with the changing tone, but the chemistry between the three leads is convincingly genuine. Murdoch also proves an accomplished first-time director, moving the action along at a brisk pace. He even allows frequent dips into comedy that work for the most part.
Stripped of the songs though, the plot starts to falter. Attempts to craft significant developments, particularly Eve’s ongoing mental health problems and a doomed romance with a dashing musician, feel forced. There’s a listless feel as they wander around the city walking through a never-ending series of postcard backdrops. An extended kayaking trip sums it up. Diverting enough to watch, it doesn’t really go anywhere.
Luckily for Murdoch, his songs soar above narrative problems. Far from perfect, God Help the Girl has a gentle breezy feel that’s hard not to fall for. It might ultimately end up little more than an extended Belle and Sebastian video, but is that really so bad?
God Help the Girl is released nationwide on 22nd August 2014.
Watch the trailer for God Help the Girl here: