God Help the Girl (Amplify, NR)

God Help the Girl 75It’s twee, improbable, affected, and quirky, all in a different and less accessible strain from what you can expect from someone like Wes Anderson.

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Have you noticed that all of our current young actresses, either popular or up-and-coming, can sing? Scarlett Johansson can sing, Keira Knightley can sing, Anne Hathaway can sing, all of the countless Disney-bred stars (Vanessa Hudgens, Hilary Duff, Selena Gomez, etc.) can sing. What’s the deal with that? And now we can add Aussie Emily Browning (Sucker Punch, A Series of Unfortunate Events) and Brit Hannah Murray to the list, judging on their performances in the long-gestating Stuart Murdoch musical God Help the Girl.

Murdoch is of course the front man for the Scottish indie rock stalwarts Belle & Sebastian, and anyone who has any familiarity with B&S’s catalogue probably knows more or less what to expect from God Help the Girl. It’s twee, improbable, affected, and quirky, all in a different and less accessible strain from what you can expect from someone like Wes Anderson. I expect it to be a fairly divisive film, with B&S fans loving it and everyone else hating it, though historically I’m a Belle & Sebastian fan myself and mostly found myself unmoved one way or the other by the film.

The plot is tissue-thin: anorexia-fighting Eve (Browning) meets fledgling musician James (Olly Alexander), and together they team up with rich kid Cassie (Murray, who I know as a different character named Cassie from the UK version of Skins, but who will be more recognizable to most people as Gilly from Game of Thrones) to form a band. That’s about it. There’s tons of singing and dancing, not much drama (the film features not so much a love triangle as a love Venn diagram), not much character development. Most of the budget seems to have gone to costume design, with particular attention paid to short skirts. The film takes place in a world that might be the 60s, but either way is the type of place where boys ask girls to do outlandish, nonsexual things, and the girls always respond with an “okay.” Technically, the film is set in Glasgow, and though I’ve never been, something tells me that the sense of place is neither particularly accurate nor strong here.

The songs aren’t bad, but are far from the best work Murdoch has produced. They have titles like “I Love My Room,” which sounds an awful lot like B&S b-side “I Love My Car,” and makes one quick to agree when one character says to another, “Your songs are baby songs. They’re for children.”

Generally speaking, it’s poor form for a film critic to write about a movie as they wish it were rather than writing about a movie as it actually is. But if I’m being honest, my one biggest takeaway from God Help the Girl is that I wish it starred Carey Mulligan, another of our cadre of young actresses who can sing. Not that Browning and Murray are bad—if anything, both are quite suitable to the material—but Mulligan is one of my current favorite young actresses, and she sang a duet with Murdoch on the title track of the 2010 Belle & Sebastian release Write About Love. It seems like casting her would’ve been a no-brainer, but I guess you can’t always have things your way. | Pete Timmermann

God Help the Girl shows at the Webster Film Series at 7:30 p.m. September 12-14. For more information, visit webster.edu/filmseries or call 314-968-7487.

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