DVD REVIEW: GOD HELP THE GIRL / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: STUART MURDOCH / SCREENPLAY: STUART MURDOCH / STARRING: EMILY BROWNING, OLLY ALEXANDER, HANNAH MURRAY / RELEASE DATE: OCTOBER 27TH
If the words ‘Belle and Sebastian’ mean anything to you, you probably already know about God Help the Girl. If not, they’re a folksy indie band from Scotland, and this is the directing debut of lead singer Stuart Murdoch; a musical featuring the songs of, you guessed it, Belle and Sebastian.
Depressed and restricted to the mental hospital in which she’s being treated for anorexia, Eve finds escape in songwriting. She checks herself out, and meets up with James and Cassie, a remarkably well-tailored pair of graduates with whom she starts up a band.
And then they spend a lot of time talking about music. Far too much time. As wistful as the songs it features, God Help the Girl is sorely lacking in drama, and any developments in the plot feel like afterthoughts thrown on to decorate the string of music videos. This is especially disappointing after the opening sequence sets the film up for an interesting exploration of mental illness; when this topic is dealt with, the film does so tastefully and interestingly, but these moments of interest are too sparse among the tedious chatter.
It’s a film with a strong indie sensibility, and this style works well when the characters are likeable. Emily Browning shines as the vulnerable and talented Eve, and her chemistry with Olly Alexander’s James is occasionally sweet enough to forgive the film its errors. James himself is at times hilariously pathetic – he has a day job as the world’s crappiest lifeguard, urging swimmers “away from the sinkingness” – but is at other times just irritatingly pretentious, so much so that he commits the worst heresy possible – he insults Bowie. Cassie, meanwhile, as great as Hannah Murray is, is thinly characterized; an underdeveloped third cog.
The musical sequences themselves are competently directed, and Browning has a lovely voice, but if you’re not a fan of the band, you’ll tire of them by the end of the almost two-hour running time. Murdoch does chuck in some clever visual jokes to lighten the mood, such as an arrogant clothes store clerk whose mannequin is the spitting image of him.
While it does deal with interesting themes, exploring music as an escape from mental illness, God Help the Girl is overly long and dramatically weak, especially compared to this summer’s Begin Again, a much more engaging look at the trials of an up-and-coming musician. Ultimately, whether you’ll enjoy this film can be ascertained from two simple questions. Do you like Belle and Sebastian? Do you like them enough to watch a two-hour Belle and Sebastian music video where sometimes they stop and talk? Only if you answer yes to both of these is God Help the Girl worth your time.