MOVIE REVIEW: ‘God Help the Girl’ Is A Melancholy Music Drama About Emotional Issues

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Film: God Help the Girl
Starring: Emily Browning, Hannah Murray, Olly Alexander
Directed by: Stuart Murdoch

Using music to avoid and/or get over emotional problems in life has played an integral part in musical cinema in the past and present. Whether it was a loner with headphones on or a longhaired Slayer fan bouncing through the mosh pit, music has always been a vessel for character development. In God Help the Girl though, music is front and center, overtaking the slim plot with its sad but lively soundtrack destined to have your foot tapping.

God Help the Girl follows Eve (Sucker Punch’s Emily Browning), a girl who listens to talk radio whilst trying to write the next pop tune that will skyrocket her out of the rut of a life she is in. After breaking out of the hospital in Scotland, where she was being treated for anorexia and malnourishment, she meets another aspiring musician in James (Penny Dreadful’sOlly Alexander). James is bewildered by Eve and agrees that she has the right stuff to make great music. James and Eve then meet Cassie (Game of Thrones’ Hannah Murray) who invigorates their dreams of musical success. The story follows this talented trio, as they must overcome a multitude of obstacles to get where they want to be.

Although the story is predictable, the music of the film lifts God Help the Girl to heights that wouldn’t have been achievable without it. The intro consists of focused shots on Eve as she sings into the camera when she breaks out of the hospital, walks on the street, and sits on the train. These lone moments with Eve could have easily been dull and lifeless but with the addition of songs much akin to the director/writer Stuart Murdoch’s own indie band, Belle and Sebastian, they work. Eve, James, and Cassie could be passed off as people living outside of the real world with lofty expectations for their work that has yet to be completed but, they’re different than that. What starts out as a study on the struggle for stardom turns into a hip-shaking rendition of being grateful for what someone has and not what they don’t have.

Emily Browning, an actress that has struggled to find a good film to be in (I’m looking at you Sucker Punch and Pompeii), seems to have finally found a role in which she can sink right into. She’s equal parts adorable and heartbreaking as Eve, the girl who aside from crippling emotional issues only has music in her life. Music helps her trot along without breaking down because of the shocking reality of her life. She has no family, she’s dangerously malnourished, has no friends, and will shack up with boys if they can get her music samples to those with power to make her famous. From the opening to closing shot, the viewer is sucked in by Browning’s beauty but is kept because of the brutal honesty behind her character’s hurt eyes.

Cassie and James aren’t their own characters as much as they are people who react to Eve, people who are deemed not as important. To James, music may be fantastic but he doesn’t want stardom, he wants to make a record he loves. The same goes for Cassie, who loves music but has no desire in being loved by an audience. It’s a damn shame that these two people who represent very interesting ends of the spectrum on the musical process are so reactive to Eve’s motivations. Yes, Eve may be the lead singer and songwriter but some more fleshing out of these two minor players could have taken God Help the Girl above most musical dramas released today.

Stuart Murdoch, in his writing and directing debut, doesn’t struggle to bring his vision of these 3 people in Scotland bringing music to life. The issue is that other than the opening tracking shots of Eve singing into the camera and another party sequence that looks dull (because it’s at some kind of retirement home) but then transforms into a 50s’-era sock hop, there isn’t much visual flair to set this apart from others. Less focused than the musical montages that Zach Braff brings to his films, Murdoch’s strengths lie in the moments where the characters sing in public places, sometimes to the comedic dismay of the people around them. It’s expressively fun to watch these free-flowing characters dump all of their fears and emotions into sung word. Unfortunately, beyond those honest things sung throughout the film, there isn’t much left for God Help the Girl to rise above to achieve cinematic stardom.

GRADE: C+

Review written by Sam Cohen (Follow him on Twitter)

Sam Cohen

Sam Cohen is that guy you can't have a conversation with without bringing up Michael Mann. He is also incapable of separating himself from his teenage angst (looking at you, Yellowcard). Read on as he tries to formulate words about movies!
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