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Emily Browning stars as a musical girl with a troubled history in Murdoch’s soundtrack-to-film production. (sundance.org)

Music soars, plot sinks in God Help The Girl

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Focusing on the subtle insecurities and adult tragedies that plague young women emerging from adolescence, God Help the Girl provides a surreal look at an improbable situation. The film centres around Eve (Emily Browning), a young woman being treated for anorexia nervosa who aspires to be a musician. Visually, the film is simplistic, making the most of the lush Scottish countryside in which it’s shot, and utilizing wardrobe—as opposed to lighting—to show mood and plot shifts. Plot-wise, God Help the Girl is not only wholly unrealistic, but kitschy to a degree of being simply irritating. Opening with a scene of Eve deftly escaping from a psych ward, only to immediately fall into a musical number, brought the overall tone of the film into question—musical, comedy, drama, or something else entirely?

The original idea for this film came from the mind of Stuart Murdoch, member of Glasgow-based indie rock group Belle & Sebastian. Murdoch had the vision of creating an album, lyrically focused around the issues faced by young girls, that would be sung by multiple female artists and eventually transformed into a musical. The album was heavily influenced by Belle & Sebastian, to the extent that it featured two tracks (“Act of the Apostle” and “Funny Little Frog”) that were from one of the group’s earliest recordings. Reminiscent of classic British female pop groups, the record has a bubbly sound that is juxtaposed against lyrics dealing with heartbreak, drug abuse, and eating disorders. The overall effect is one of a contorted sense of carefree security, despite the clear insistence of pain and fear that permeates each lyric.

The film fails to pick up on the subtle nuances of the album, making for a confusingly disjointed piece of cinema where there could have been nuanced drama woven through a comedic, young-adult-esque script. Awkward reminders of Eve’s disorder are splayed across scenes of band practice and empty romance. The supporting characters are flat, and anything they might add to the plot comes across as meaningless, and ultimately, forgettable. The biggest misstep of the film occurs with its abrupt ending, one that, though predictable, counteracted any sense of decency and hope that the film had laid out beforehand.

Overall, the movie was disappointingly minimal, particularly when one considers the seriousness of the topics addressed throughout. Thankfully, the soundtrack was well-performed, and lacked none of the vibrancy it held in the original album. Each musical number was accompanied by whimsical scenes of the actors dancing in front of multi-coloured sets, all of which emphasized the dream-like sound each track possessed without appearing too childlike. Sadly, without the soundtrack, it is unlikely that the plot of the movie would be able to hold its own as a legitimate production. The lack of character depth and development in combination with adult themes addressed in a childish script made the production come off as naive and unfinished. The moral of this story: Save yourself a ticket and stick to the soundtrack.

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