Melbourne International Film Festival 2014

God Help the Girl, MIFF 2014

0 Comments 12 August 2014

God Help the Girl is the directorial debut of Belle and Sebastian frontman Stuart Murdoch, and the culmination of a long running creative project. Eve (Emily Browning) checks herself out of hospital, despite her still fragile mental health, and attempts to get her life/musical career back on track. She forms a band with fellow misfits, Cassie and James (Hannah Murray, Olly Alexander), and tries to maintain her new life of cuteness and capability. A musical of sorts, using material from the female vocal-driven project of the same name, God Help the Girl doesn’t quite know what to be.

It is hard to deny that the music in this film is great. Murdoch’s brand of sweet, soothing indie pop is intoxicating, and it is well showcased. The cast fit their musical parts remarkably well and, backed by members of Murdoch’s actual band, each number comes together nicely.

The core of the ensemble take to their three level podium graciously. Browning, Alexander and Murray each know how much to give and how much to hold back. They are a strong trio. Flawlessly attractive and charismatic, their chemistry is strong and their connections feel genuine. Browning’s Eve is nuanced, contrary and surprisingly likeable. And her voice is good, even rivalling Catherine Ireton’s on the original album. Honestly, watching everyone skip, whistle and click through Murdoch’s oeuvre is a pleasure. But it isn’t quite enough.

The fact that God Help the Girl is a film feels kind of incidental, as though it’s just another medium to explore this idea in. The plot is a little confused and unfocused at times, and often seems like a vehicle for cuteness and whimsy: ‘Let’s ride a tandem bike!’ or ‘Let’s watch a puppy running!’ or ‘Let’s put some cuties in knee-highs and neck-ties!’ (not complaining about that last one). And all these things are good, or could be. Murdoch has a pleasant aesthetic to his work, and his style is in keeping with his music. However, without a strong plot or a clear goal, our attention wavers between each song and adventure. These intermissions hold back what could be a great film. When a character bursts into song in a film, it should feel as if they have no other way to express themselves. But without adequate emotional build-up beforehand, Murdoch’s songs lack the urgency needed to drive the plot forward.

To be fair, this is Stuart Murdoch’s directorial debut. And he does show promise. In terms of tone and aesthetic, this film is comparable to Richard Ayoade’s debut, Submarine (2010), and its shortcomings are similar. But unlike Submarine, Murdoch’s film doesn’t quite feel complete. Hopefully this isn’t the last we’ve heard from Murdoch on this project because, as it is (and as nice as it looks and sounds), God Help the Girl needs a little help.

3/5 stars


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Lyricist/Linguist. Pauper/Prince. Grandiose/Deluded.

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