Genre: Drama, Musical, Romance
Directed by: Stuart Murdoch
Starring: Emily Browning, Olly Alexander, Hannah Murray,
A musical set in Glasgow to the dulcet sounds of Scottish indie-pop duo Belle and Sebastian might sound an unlikely recipe for film success, but Stuart Murdoch’s 2014 directorial debut, God Help the Girl, is an unassumingly sweet and thought-provoking coming-of-age story. After winning the prestigious World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for the best ensemble cast at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, the film was received favourably upon its August cinema release and will be available to buy on DVD in the UK from 31 October.
God Help the Girl introduces us to Eve, played by talented, one-to-watch actress Emily Browning. Far away from her home shores of Australia, Eve feels vulnerable and lost in Scotland. The film deserves praise for sensitively depicting Eve’s struggles: she has been suffering from a debilitating eating disorder and her only outlet is through writing music. Eve’s fortunes take a turn for the better when she meets James (Olly Alexander), a kind and slightly awkward guitar teacher, at a concert. The two become friends and Eve soon moves into James’ spare room. Before long, the two flatmates have teamed up with quirky Cassie (Games of Thrones and Skins actress Hannah Murray), a young, privileged English girl who is one of James’ guitar pupils. The three friends bond over their mutual love of music and over the course of a long, picturesque Scottish summer together, form a band based in Glasgow’s bohemian west-end.
As Eve, Browning delivers a captivating, nuanced performance that carries the film. She expresses so much feeling and emotion through her facial expressions and portrays Eve’s internal struggles with her eating disorder with a striking honesty that deserves praise. It is a joy to watch her character’s gradual acceptance of herself and her growing confidence, but similarly the film avoids the pitfall of implying that forming a band and making friends solves all of Eve’s problems. It is evident she is suffering from an illness, which will always involve some degree of fighting against on her behalf. Olly Alexander and Hannah Murray are equally as appealing as James and Cassie. The three young actors make a likeable trio, believable both as friends and bandmates.
The movie’s setting, Glasgow, has never looked quite so stunning on film. Bathed in dusky light, its gorgeous stone buildings and grassy parks are the perfect backdrop to the story. Making Glasgow such a central part of the film adds a sense of time and place that grounds the action and enhances the realism.
God Help the Girl started life as a studio album released by Stuart Murdoch back in 2009 and thus it is unsurprising that the movie’s centerpiece is its music. All the actors’ sing and each song is minutely choreographed. This overtly music-video style does take a little while to get used to: the opening scene in which Eve sings directly to the camera is a bit jarring, but you will find yourself quickly adjusting and beginning to enjoy the style. All the musical numbers are so well-executed, a stand-out being the charmingly upbeat I’ll Have to Dance with Cassie, which makes you itch to get up on your feet and dance. Notably, this is also a musical in which the songs always advance the plot of the film. In fact, I enjoyed the film’s music so much that I downloaded the soundtrack the day after watching it and the album has been playing on repeat ever since.
Thanks to standout performances by the leads, catchy tunes and a well-executed and multi-layered plot, God Help the Girl manages to raise itself beyond the standard coming-of-age tale. This charming movie will leave you with a smile on your face and is a must-see.