Recently, with Inside Llewyn Davis, the Coen brothers proved that films with little narrative nor direction, about fledging singer songwriters, can be completely charming, wonderful and triumphant. However for first time filmmaker Stuart Murdoch, the frontman of twee indie pop outfit Belle and Sebastian, God Help the Girl goes against that notion entirely, as his very first deviation into the world of film is regrettably underwhelming.
Emily Browning plays Eve, a young girl living in Glasgow, in and out of hospital as she suffers from anxiety and anorexia. To help her get through life she writes music, and it’s at a gig where she meets nerdy guitarist James (Olly Alexander), who instantly hits it off with our protagonist, as he proposes the idea of forming a band. As music works by way of escapism for Eve, she seeks solace in melody, and when they recruit fellow musician Cass (Hannah Murray) the trio of lost souls join forces, embarking on an exciting adventure – though that’s not to say it’s one without complications, as like with any newly formed bands, musical differences inevitably come into play.
Unbearably kooky at times, this pastiche of musicals is too cliched and predictable, as a project that’s seemingly too safe for Murdoch, as the themes explored remain within his comfort zone, to an extent. There’s a distinct lack of risk-taking involved, and even the music isn’t original to the picture, but from an eponymous concept album from 2009. The narrative does little to compel or surprise and a few frustrating tropes of the genre are implemented needlessly (cue stereotypical, handsome French guy to rival the awkward geek). There is undeniably much to be admired, particularly so when a popular musician is giving up the guitar for a seat in the director’s chair for the first time (not many have tried, after all), but his inexperience is evident, and detrimental to this project. Some of the editing techniques are the sort you see in A-Level projects, like a Looney Toons inspired fade into a small circle. Really?
God Help the Girl is the second Scottish set musical out in the past few months, following on from Sunshine on Leith, but yet again, and despite the intriguing concept, the songs simply aren’t strong enough, which poses something of a problem when constructing a musical. The songs don’t feel naturally implemented either, never assisting the narrative, simply coming out of thin air and rarely as a means of driving the plot forward.
God Help the Girl is a quaint, pretentious film, representative of a quaint, pretentious band. That said, fans of Belle and Sebastian are likely to adhere to this picture, as it’s designed in such a way to appease their faithful support, deeming this, in some ways, a success. However those who are unsure of Murdoch’s unique style and fervour may just want to steer clear of this picture altogether, as it’s bogged down by its mawkish portrayal of adolescence.