SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2014
By Don Simpson | January 26, 2014
Director: Stuart Murdoch
Writer: Stuart Murdoch
Starring: Emily Browning, Hannah Murray, Olly Alexander, Pierre Boulanger, Cora Bisset
Eve (Emily Browning) is the quintessential heroine of a Belle and Sebastian song. Remarkably dressed but heaven knows she’s miserable, Eve is so depressed and anorexic that she needs to be hospitalized. On one fateful day, Eve temporarily escapes the hospital long enough to stumble upon a concert at the Barrowland where James (Olly Alexander) is trying to perform. That brief taste of freedom motivates Eve to begin writing songs upon her return to the hospital as a means of therapy.
With her anorexia and depression presumably under control, Eve is freed to roam the streets of Glasgow once again. Eve meets up with James and they begin penning blissful pop masterpieces together, eventually recruiting Cassie (Hannah Murray) — James’ musical protégé — to join them; then, the scrumptiously styled threesome recruits a backing band. Along the way, there are plenty of heartfelt musical interludes, some of which are paired with colorfully kitschy choreography (Emily-Jane Boyle). This is as preciously perfect that you will ever see Emily Browning, Hannah Murray and Olly Alexander — all of whom are impeccably cast.
Part A Woman Is a Woman, part Jules and Jim and part A Hard Day’s Night, God Help the Girl is an unabashedly twee film that could have easily been called Manic Pixie Dream Girl: The Musical; but then what else should we expect from writer-director Stuart Murdoch, the founder of the band that has soundtracked the lives of so many of the aforementioned dream girls? Okay, honestly, we should expect a lot more. Sure, the songs (Stuart Murdoch) are as close to brilliant as humanly possible — the vintage costume design (Denise Coombes) and 16mm cinematography (Giles Nuttgens) are not all that shabby either — but there is something inherently dodgy about a script that so overly simplifies a young woman’s mental illness. (Music saves her from a melancholy existence! Hooray!) Sure, musicals are not typically known for their complex narrative structures, but so much more is expected from a lyricist whose songs showcase a narrative profundity that is greater than most screenwriters.
Regardless of what critics say, legions of Belle and Sebastian fans are likely to find themselves utterly awestruck by the pure, unadulterated eye and ear candy of Murdoch’s film. Even this particularly fickle Belle and Sebastian fan — to paraphrase “Me and the Major,” I remember Belle and Sebastian in ninety-six — was wholeheartedly entertained by God Help the Girl.