Film

God Help the Girl

Belle & Sebastian makes a movie

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

“Just for this summer we were all in the right place and the possibilities were endless.” The light and wistful pop music of Glasgow band Belle & Sebastian was tailor made for two things: coming-of-age stories and trendy art house movies. And that sound has been the soundtrack for plenty of both, but with God Help the Girl its frontman Stuart Murdoch who spins a wondrously surreal and intoxicating fairy tale for those who love and draw strength from the power of music. In essence, it’s a movie Murdoch has made for people just like him, but those who perhaps aren’t down with Belle & Sebastian will fall in love with it, too.

Murdoch named the band Belle & Sebastian based on a favorite fairytale, and God Help the Girl has a similar storybook quality. But these are the hippest, best-dressed fairy tale characters you’ve ever seen, and at times it’s easy to get lost in how stylish the film looks, almost like a sun-drenched feature-length music video. Murdoch weaves a series of original songs into the story of Eve (Emily Browning), a troubled girl in a hospital after a struggle with anorexia. Murdoch doesn’t deal with her health troubles much at all to keep with the peppy vibe. Eve doesn’t have much, but she has a love of music, and after escaping, it isn’t long before she’s ensconced in the Glasgow scene. By chance she meets the dorky but quietly handsome James (Olly Alexander), a singer-guitarist struggling to make his mark. After Eve follows him home one night, they become the best of friends through their mutual desire to form a band. But they need one more, and that’s when James calls upon the sophisticated and flirty Cassie (Hannah Murray) to round out their trio.

The plot Murdoch constructs is pretty weightless. Any problems that arise can be solved with the help of a well-timed musical number, performed live by the cast themselves. But it’s also endearingly charming and hopeful, with Murdoch finding new ways to explore his pet themes of faith, spirituality and the healing power of a good song. Of course, some troubles turn out to be bigger than others. James has fallen in love with the naturally gifted Eve, but due to a combination of mental instability and youthful hormones she’s a bit all over the map. Much like the brilliant Lenny Abrahamson film Frank, the film explores the impact of mental illness on artistic genius. Does Eve’s situation make her a better musician or hold her back from greatness? And as James follows ably by her side, there’s also a recognition that true talent isn’t something that can be learned in a class. She has a knack for turning everything into a song he’s never heard before, while he’s comfortable covering the hits.

Some may find the casual way larger issues are dealt with frustrating but the music has so much spirit it’s easy to forgive. Murdoch weaves the music in seamlessly, the band energetically recounting their actions (even minute details) in cheerful, earnest verse. While this is obviously a work of fiction, there are plenty of moments you know were pulled from Murdoch’s experiences. In particular the moments where the trio discusses other bands and squabbles over their creative visions were clearly taken from Murdoch’s personal encounters. Murdoch keys in on the dynamics of a band where the members all have conflicting perspectives. Is it possible for a group such as that to flourish? Or are they destined for a breakup? While some of the editing needs some work and Murdoch needs to learn a thing or two about pacing, his directorial debut is an unqualified success. God Help the Girl is like a good song that stays with you long after it’s over.

Sugar Ray
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