God Help the Girl Stuart Murdoch
Published Oct 09, 2014Back in 2009, Belle and Sebastian mastermind Stuart Murdoch released an album of his music, sang by women, under the name God Help the Girl. It was the imaginary soundtrack to a musical film Murdoch wrote and hoped to have produced. Five years later, his dream has finally come to fruition with the release of God Help the Girl.
Eve (Emily Browning) is a young Australian transplant living in Glasgow. As the film opens, she sneaks out of a hospital and goes to a punk show where she meets James (Olly Alexander), a bookish singer-songwriter with a romantic view of the history of rock and roll and a profound lack of real-world experience. Eve eventually moves into James' flat and befriends Cassie (Hannah Murray, Gilly on Game of Thrones), a wealthy dilettante to whom James gives music lessons. The trio forms a band using Eve's songs, but things come to a head for James when Eve starts seeing an Italian lothario.
God Help the Girl hews close to the Belle and Sebastian aesthetic. It's vaguely twee, in a proto-Wes Anderson way, naïve and most of all filled with wit and whimsy. Murdoch's narrative is primarily built through songs, sung by Eve, James and Cassie. Many of these appeared on the 2009 God Help the Girl record, but are given new emotional weight in their proper visual context. There's a show-tune quality to many of them, but rarely does the music veer far from what audiences have come to expect from the musician.
Still, Murdoch's decision to direct is questionable; his relative inexperience shows on the screen at times, particularly in the voiceover that runs throughout the trio's canoe trip. Despite the film's technical shortcomings — there's a ramshackle amateur-ness to the whole affair — Murdoch still manages to bring his own visual flair to the proceedings.
Eve's journey — hospitalized for an eating disorder, now trying to find her place in the world — mirror's Murdoch's struggle with chronic fatigue syndrome as a teen. And that's where the film finds its heart. Rather than an unrelated vanity project for a successful musician, the film feels like an extension of Murdoch's usual creative pursuits, something he in no way tries to hide. God Help the Girl is a Belle and Sebastian song brought to life on the screen — a feat for any artist, let alone one dabbling outside their usual medium.
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