The CIFF screening of God Help the Girl was the Canadian Premiere – it won the Special Jury Prize, world cinema at Sundance earlier this year. It’s the story a girl recovering from an eating disorder who runs away from a psychiatric hospital and forms a pop band with two new friends. It’s the first directorial effort by Belle and Sebastien’s Stuart Murdoch and it’s been called twee (approximately: too precious; too cute to live, or something like that), it’s so far beyond that that twee isn’t even a blip in your rearview mirror. Oddly enough, it works.
Eve (Emily Browning, Pompeii, Sleeping Beauty) is the girl who runs away to become a pop singer-songwriter in Glasgow. She meets James (Olly Alexander, Bright Star, Penny Dreadful) – who looks like one The Proclaimers – after his band’s gig goes horribly wrong. Shortly thereafter, they meet posh-but-not-snobby Cassie (Hannah Murray, Game of Thrones) and the trio become terrific friends – and, yes, eventually form a band.
There is, of course, a handsome cad, too – Anton (Pierre Boulanger), who leads an unlikely punk/pop band called Wobbly Legged Rats, and romances Eve.
Other elements include a demo Eve asked Anton to deliver to a radio DJ; an outrageous assortment of contradictory outfits that Eve makes feel complementary; a wealth of sugary, lighter than air pop (and an extremely odd selection of licensed soundtrack songs); betrayal, canoeing, and more. If not for Eve’s mental health issues providing a darker undercurrent, God Help the Girl might float away.
Murdoch’s script seems influenced by all sorts of things – the music of The Left Banke (a close-up of a 45 of Pretty Ballerina gives it away if some of the songs haven’t already); a history of music videos – especially The Monkees; epic romance novels (think the Brontes) and more. Browning, Alexander and Murray exhibit terrific chemistry and the combination of Browning and Boulanger definitely sparks (too bad he turns out to be such a jerk). It should be noted that actors all do their own signing and are extremely good.
Murdoch’s script kind of meanders all over the place, emotionally, musically and dramatically but that fits with his history with Belle and Sebastian. As a director, he makes the script’s meandering a positive quality – shifting pace within scenes to underscore changing moods and tones.
He shifts from bright, crystal clear cinematography to grainy and from sharp, well-defined colors to pastels – each shift signaling a particular mood (grainy equals memories/nostalgia, for example). He also uses movie musical conventions in interesting ways with the result that we are never quite sure what’s going to happen next – which is how things should be (but rarely are).
As an unusual bit of staging, CIFF had a pop/rock trio play a few songs as people filed into the theater. That was something that was as unexpected as the movie itself – and kinda cool…
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