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Review: God Help The Girl

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I wanted to love this film so much. Usually when I have this feeling, one of two things happens. Either the film is dreadful, but the emotion and anticipation that I have invested in it, sees me exonerate it and be enraptured by it regardless. Or it is amazing, but my expectations are so high that whatever brilliance it unleashes, I will never be happy. Sadly, God Help The Girl trod a third path – my expectations were sky high and could never be met, and it was pretty dire.

The first film written by, and the directorial debut of Stuart Murdoch of Belle & Sebastian, this musical about three post adolescent pals trying to understand their places in life in the city of Glasgow was born from music. God Help The Girl was a 2009 collaborative collection of sweet, 60s, indie pop tunes telling the story of a girl with issues, saved by music. The crowdfunded and subsequent film weaves these songs together with dancing numbers and a twee buoyancy.

Emily Browning plays the central character Eve, an Australian girl hospitalized in the most unrealistic manifestation of a mental health facility for an eating disorder and depression. Passionate about music, her night time adventures out of the unit cause her to run into James (Olly Alexander) and Anton (Pierre Boulanger), two band frontmen who are very different and end up playing very different roles in Eve’s life. James, Eve and James’ pocket money funding music pupil Cassie (Hannah Murray) end up forming a band.

Unfortunately the story telling of Belle & Sebastian’s songs does not manifest itself so well in this musical film.

Part of you wants to just accept and dismiss the weightlessness of the film – it’s a musical right? This is what they do. But there is just too much filler in here.

The song lyrics on the album tell the story clearly, ‘I’m bored out of my mind, too sick to even care, I’ll take a little walk’ we kick off in Act of the Apostle, ‘life could be musical comedy,’ suggests ‘Hiding Neath My Umbrella”, whilst “A Down and Dusky Blonde” is both a pretty simple plot summary’’ I read a book a day like an apple but I did not eat / So the doctor came to me and said / A woman does not live by the printed word / Forgive yourself and eat.’

I’d heard that fans of indie pop, indie movies, and troubled girls would love it – and I am a member of all three. The cast ticks all the indie boxes – a beautiful dark doe eyed girl with too much eye liner, a gawky bespectacled musician, a posh blonde girl, and a continental bad boy guitar player, who come into each other’s lives as a result of mishaps and music.

But it just doesn’t work. There are some simple visual gags, like James and his bandmate removing their geek glasses before an onstage slapping match, the awkward maneuvering of Cassie’s tandem bicycle, and the school play style dancing is slightly sweet – or would be if your teenage sister was performing at school. Some of the songs are fun. It’s sweet.

Producer Barry Mendel says of the movie, “It’s a simple story – about the brief moment after you’ve realised what you want to do with your life, before your dream settles into becoming your job, when you’re filled with enthusiasm, meeting like-minded friends and the possibilities are endless.” This can’t be faulted.

But in this case the movie was too shallow and whimsical and without enough character to make the simple story matter. The narrative stumbles along with no substance, and what makes the unpolished nature of indie so attractive is here frustrating. And I don’t like to leave the cinema frustrated.

You can follow me on Twitter and check out my blog.

God Help The Girl is launching UK wide with a special live event in cinemas on 16 August 2014. Followed by a nationwide release from 22 August 2014.

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