Review: Stuart Murdoch's 'God Help the Girl' is, predictably, a cute downer

Belle & Sebastian's Stuart Murdoch heads into movies with "God Help the Girl," a part-time musical about sensitive youths putting together a band.

Formed a band, they formed a band: Emily Browning and Olly Alexander star in "God Help the Girl." Credit: Amplify/Neil Davidson Formed a band, they formed a band: Emily Browning and Olly Alexander star in "God Help the Girl."
Credit: Amplify/Neil Davidson

 

‘God Help the Girl’
Director: Stuart Murdoch
Stars: Emily Browning, Olly Alexander
Rating: R
3 (out of 5) Globes

 

“God Help the Girl” is super cute. But of course it is: It’s the directorial debut of Stuart Murdoch, and is very nearly everything you’d expect from a movie by the frontman of Belle & Sebastian. It’s a gentle yet self-pitying drag about music as a drug for the antisocial, depressed and sour. Full-on, even bubbly song-and-dance numbers pepper a sleepy, meandering narrative that pretends to be another putting-a-band-together number but quickly reveals itself to be a portrait of that period of youth when sensitive, sullen artists struggle with whether selling out — that is, becoming remotely popular — is really all that terrible.

 

Reliably waifish Emily Browning (“Sucker Punch”) plays Eve, a struggling, shy songwriter introduced escaping from a psychiatric hospital for the sole purpose of going to a show. There she meets James (Olly Alexander), a musician who looks like Jarvis Cocker but is all Murdoch: grouchy, with a mordant wit and thin skin, who hates everyone and seriously challenges our sympathies by averring “I’ve never shed a tear to a Bowie record.”

 

Despite being named for Murdoch’s all-girl side project, the film finds these two eventually joining together and trying to find bandmates (which they do, of course, by posting a notice that reads “musicians needed for autumnal music project”). Even with a third wheel, Cass (Hannah Murray), the focus is on Eve and James. Eve gets the willowy, weepie stuff, and is asked, “Did you ever think about writing your feelings down?” James gets the good lines, although it’s Cass who sizes him up by saying “You definitely think too much. You take the fun out of things.”

Emily Browning gets most of the really sensitive business in the Stuart Murdoch-made "God Help the Girl." Credit: Amplify/Neil Davidson Emily Browning gets most of the really sensitive business in the Stuart Murdoch-made "God Help the Girl."
Credit: Amplify/Neil Davidson

But try as they might, they still live in the gloomy real world, presented in drab (read: English) browns that would seem to stifle creativity and, almost importantly, whimsy. The musical numbers themselves are mix of Jacques Demy and Richard Lester, though never as otherwordly as the former nor as clever as the latter. Chamber pop doesn’t really lend itself to twirling and heavy cutting, but the scenes here have their own charm, especially since once they end it’s right back to an all-too-realistic (and eventually fairly melodramatic) portrayal of youthful inertia.

It’s still whimsical: Yes, there’s a tandem bicycle at one point, plus a canoe trip. But most of the time it’s a depresso that understands the difficulties of creating music, of playing music, of presenting music, in a way that can only come from someone who lived through it. And yet it was made for the young, to become a traditional rite of passage for anyone who picks up a guitar, hates the world but is equally frightened of it.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge

 
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