Belle and Sebastian frontman Stuart Murdoch’s directorial debut is a pleasant surprise that has come out of left field in more ways than one. Funded in part by Kickstarter and turned down by all major funding bodies until Barry Mendel, producer of the likes of Bridesmaids and Serenity, came on board to make Murdoch’s vision a reality. God Help the Girl has a wonderfully lo-fi, messy look that stays the right side of charming and is like nothing else you will see this year. Perhaps the film’s closest spiritual cousin is Begin Again (2014), that other ramshackle tale of down at heel people finding purpose again through music.
Emily Browning plays Eve, a teenager with an eating disorder who has hit rock bottom self-esteem wise until a chance meeting with James (Olly Alexander) leads to an unlikely alliance in which they decide to form a band, along with singer Cassie (Hannah Murray). What follows are a series of escapades as the three newfound friends find purpose through their music, working towards that all important first gig. God Help the Girl is a musical in the loosest sense; the cast regularly breaks out into Belle and Sebastian’s whimsical ditties, which may charm or irritate depending on your take on that kind of music. Sometimes, the songs feel shoehorned into the film without making much sense in the overall narrative, however this disconnect only adds to the rough edges that add to the film’s charm. If you thought Begin Again had a low-budget feel, this looks like it was made for about a tenner.
The leads are all perfect in their roles, Olly Alexander and Hannah Murray capturing the naiveté and pomposity of youth, and Emily Browning is wonderful in a difficult role as Eve, her character suffering from the outset with an eating disorder and slowly finding healing and purpose once more. It is a credit to Browning’s performance and Murdoch’s sensitive, yet unsentimental writing of such an issue that it does not overwhelm the film’s tone, acting more as a dramatic counterweight to the whimsy.
God Help the Girl is sweet, charming, funny, sometimes clunky and irritating, but ultimately winning. It’s a film, which has heart and soul, and wears it proudly on its tweed-jacketed sleeve.