I can’t remember the last time I saw a
Scottish musical, but I’m sure I’ll remember God Help the Girl for some time to come: it’s charming, clever, and
fun. The movie opens with the adorable Emily Browning singing directly to the
camera, establishing both her character and the tone of the film. That’s when
it won me over.
When we encounter Browning she’s
fleeing from an institution—out the window, off the property, and onto a train—to
begin a new chapter in her life. She’s
been hospitalized for anorexia and bulimia, but she wants to leave all that
behind, to write and perform songs. She meets a nerdy but appealing guy (Olly
Alexander) who plays guitar; after he’s booed off the stage at a club the two
misfits become attached. (He’s smitten with her, but she doesn’t quite
reciprocate.) Then he gets a job teaching guitar to a wealthy, isolated girl (Hannah
Murray) and the three loners form a bond, having adventures, sharing dreams and
schemes as they make up songs together. It’s a very winning trio.
Help the Girl was written and directed by Stuart Murdoch, the lead singer
of the indie pop group Belle and Sebastian. This marks his debut as a
filmmaker, and it shows definite signs of inexperience: it goes on a bit long
and is overly ambitious for a story that’s so slight. But the picture (and its
leading actors) are so likable that I’m inclined to forgive its flaws.
anything, God Help the Girl is
reminiscent of A Hard Day’s Night (with a touch of Jules et Jim), integrating home-movie type footage, rapid montages, and vignettes into the
loosely-wound narrative. Although some of these sequences resemble music
videos, they all express some aspect of the primary characters’ relationships,
and wouldn’t make much sense out of context. The same might be said of
Murdoch’s songs, which may not be memorable but work nicely within the
structure of his film.
God Help the
is fresh and different, an enjoyable alternative to cookie-cutter filmmaking.