New Indie Musical is a Precious, Pretty Disappointment
DIRECTOR: STUART MURDOCH/2014
There is a terrible punchline to my viewing of God Help the Girl.
I started watching this new indie film knowing very little about it, I confess. I love a good musical and have a weakness for sentimental quirk, and God Help the Girl looked to be right up my alley. The movie needed to do very little to win me over.
Eve (Emily Browning, of Sucker Punch) is a delicate creature; a dreamy songwriter struggling with an eating disorder. On the lam from the hospital, she connects with a heart-on-his-sleeve guitarist, James (Ollie Alexander). He’s smitten with Eve almost immediately: her feelings toward James are a bit harder to pin down.
Together Eve and James befriend a wealthy, isolated, and slightly dorky young woman named Cassie (Hannah Murray). The three of them frolic in Glasgow while forming a band and planning their debut concert.
And that, right there, is pretty much the movie. Will Eve conquer her inner demons? Will James be able to express his love for her, and will it be returned? And what of Cassie? What of Cassie, who is underdeveloped even in a movie full of underdeveloped characters. She’s a cheerful blank, but I found her more bearable sometimes than Eve. Eve is the manic pixie dream girl minus the manic – in other words, a thoroughly fictional character but not even a fun one. James is sweet enough to be likable, even if his artsy cynicism seems a bit affected. There’s very little dynamism in these relationships, though. Nothing that is happening seems to matter as much as the hipster vintage chic in which the characters are dressed – except, of course, the music.
They are so rambling and precious and light and girly and …God help the reviewer, I must use the word “twee”. As I watched I thought, “This is some lame Belle-and-Sebastian-wannabe dreck.”
God Help the Girl is, after all, a musical; and even a musical about musicians creating music. The problem is that there are many, many songs in the film and I enjoyed very few of them. They are so rambling and precious and light and girly and …God help the reviewer, I must use the word “twee”. As I watched I thought, “This is some lame Belle-and-Sebastian-wannabe dreck.”
And that’s where the punchline comes in. If I’d been paying attention to Belle and Sebastian’s work of the last several years (as I clearly have not), or if I’d read background on the movie before watching it, I’d have known that God Help the Girl was written and directed by Stuart Murdoch, lead singer of Belle and Sebastian. Those songs that seemed such faux-whimsy knockoffs of Murdoch’s work are….Murdoch’s work.
I don’t know what to do with that information except to say that sung by these performers, framed by this story, the songs did not work for me. At all. I was cringing at songs like “Pretty When the Wind Blows” and “Pretty Eve in the Tub” (prettiness is a high priority in this film – even James can accurately be described as pretty). There are exceptions – songs like “I’ll Have to Dance with Cassie” that I enjoyed – but in a soundtrack with 28 songs, the exceptions were far too few.
The visual style of the film seems confused, as if Murdoch was drawing bits and pieces from movies and directors he admires. Attempts at humor are often jokey rather than genuinely funny. An homage to A Hard Day’s Night is especially egregious.
I imagine that hardcore Belle and Sebastian fans will enjoy God Help the Girl. I can’t recommend the movie to anyone who doesn’t fall into that category.