DVD Review: 'God Help the Girl'

★★★☆☆
The filmmaking debut of Stuart Murdoch, frontman of indie pop band Belle and Sebastian, God Help the Girl (2014) is a wistful modern-day musical structured around tracks from the band’s album of the same name. Starring rising Australian actress Emily Browning, Murdoch’s film is an interesting passion project infused by the musician’s own brand of upbeat and lyrical amiability. Browning plays Eve, an aspiring singer-songwriter trapped in a psychiatric hospital where she's being treated for anorexia nervosa. After escaping the hospital, Eve absconds to Glasgow in the hope of making her dreams of becoming a musician real.

One night, during a gig Eve meets and immediately befriends James (Olly Alexander), a lifeguard who shares her desire to write music. Along with James’ friend Cassie (Game of Thrones star Hannah Murray), a guitar student, the three form a band called God Help the Girl, and set out to make it big on the Scottish music scene. The trio’s relationship is hindered, however, when Olly develops feelings for Eve, whose handle of her own mental health becomes something of a challenge for all involved. Playing fast and loose with the codes and conventions of the musical genre whilst offering a rough and ready modern alternative to the polished sheen and studied choreography of a typical Hollywood product, God Help the Girl is a charming and consciously kooky extension of Murdoch’s musical style and sensibilities.

Known for lyrics that stem from a female perspective, Murdoch has essentially created an audio-visual companion piece to his celebrated oeuvre, populated by absorbing characters both seeking and exuding salvation through music. As watchable as the cast are playing this ragtag group of trendy sentimental hipsters, they’re hindered by stilted dialogue sequences that have been awkwardly integrated with the film's spontaneous music numbers. Displaying the standard clumsiness of a first-time filmmaker, Murdoch nevertheless has a deft eye for shot composition, yet where he falls down is the handling of the film’s overall tone, particularly when its paper thin beginnings give way to something altogether more melodramatic. What he’s ultimately produced is a toe-tapping but forgettable ditty that will please die-hard fans but has little appeal to the uninitiated.

Edward Frost @Frost_Ed

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