God Help the Girl (2014) / Drama-Musical
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but probably PG-13 for some sensuality and language
Running Time: 111 min.
Cast: Emily Browning, Olly Alexander, Hannah Murray, Pierre Boulanger, Cora Bissett, Mark A. Radcliffe, Stuart Maconie
Director: Stuart Murdoch
Screenplay: Stuart Murdoch
Review published September 8, 2014
Belle and Sebastian front-man Stuart Murdoch writes and directs this sweet-natured hipster-bait drama with musical elements that tries to capture the spirit of girls growing into women though a variety of songs. It originally began as a collection of songs that eventually led to the Scottish band releasing a compilation album in 2009 of the same name, but due to difficulty in getting the funds to proceed, the film to accompany the album is five years following, thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign.
Emily Browning (Pompeii, The Host) stars as Eve, a troubled and depressed teenage girl with an angelic voice -- a patient infirmed in a psychiatric ward being looked at for anorexia -- who has a hard time following the rules, and is anxious to go out and experience life. She sneaks out of her Glasgow hospital room in order to go to a concert, where she ends up meeting and befriending a sweet but nerdy teenage guitarist named James (Alexander, Le Week-End).
After getting into hot water at the mental health facility, she's given some meds to stabilize her, then sneaks out again, this time renting a room with James, and together, the two begin to work on music together, soon adding a third when they hook up with guitar pupil Cassie (Murray, "Game of Thrones"), as the trip explore life and start a band to (hopefully) make their dreams of pop-star success come true.
This is the kind of movie that will likely have its share of fans who immediately fall in love with its soft-focus style, and certainly if you love the pop songs, and just sweet-natured and romantic mood pieces about the ups and downs of burgeoning womanhood, this may hit the bull's-eye with you. For others, it's cute alright, but also long and meandering in its story, likely resulting in many viewers zoning out for extended periods just waiting for the narrative for to take some sort of shape again.
There are times when the attempts at symbolism within the film feel too obvious, such as when Eve learns that James is a lifeguard, and boy does she need saving. The metaphor may stick out, but Murdoch finds a way to temper the delivery somewhat by showing that, while James might try to save lives, he's not particularly adept at it.
I suppose one litmus test for the film might be to remove the musical numbers from the film and see if it still works well. It doesn't. Not that it's bad without the music, but it's a good deal less interesting. God Help the Girl is a fragile film about fragile characters in the most fragile moment of their lives. If you watch it with a delicate eye, you'll be rewarded, but those who apply too much weight of expectation upon a project this twee will see the entire thing fall to shreds. It's a paper kite in a rain storm.
©2014 Vince Leo