If I tell you “God Help the Girl” is a musical film written and directed by the singer Stuart Murdoch of Belle and Sebastian, you almost know everything you need to know about it. This slight but charming romp is a visual expression of the band’s distinct musical style and, as such, it is definitely not for everyone. However, if you like their casual, whimsical, early ’60s-inspired sentimental pop sound, this pretty little tale will enthrall.
Indeed, this project began as an album a few years ago, and Murdoch raised funds on Kickstarter to interpret it as a film about a winsome Scottish lass named Eve trying to find her way, mostly through music. This is not just a film with musical performances as part of the action, like characters going to clubs, but it’s also a true musical where people sing songs right into the camera mid-scene. Since most of the scenes are about writing songs, however, the whole thing is basically a big music video with a bit of talking.
If I had seen this film was I was younger, I would have been over the moon. Between the used bookstores, vintage clothing stores and general vibe of moody yet hopeful naiveté, this experience captures the moment between childhood and adulthood to the extent that you could quite easily find it annoying. However, I think if you view it as a nostalgic depiction, rather than an endorsement, of that fleeting time, it’s quite lovely and sort of uncanny in its ability to depict that feeling.
On the other hand, if you find quirkiness annoying, you should most assuredly not rent this movie; it will be the worst night of your life. It is a veritable two-hour quirk fest; the heroine has bangs and wears babydoll dresses, the guy wears minuscule pants and glasses and the movie it most closely resembles is “A Hard Day’s Night.” It has visual puns, a reference to “The Sound of Music,” and it fetishizes paperback books. It’s not Quentin Tarentino.
Naturally the cast is adorable, especially Emily Browning, who played Violet Baudelaire in “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” and this role is actually a natural extension of that one in some ways, as precociousness is on display in both. Unfortunately, although she was the star, she was as opaque as the black tights she wore with everything. She wanly seduced everyone she met, with little reaction on her part. I can appreciate this movie as an appealing confection, but it could have had more emotional depth, and that would have had to start with Eve.
The characterization was as thin as the characters themselves, but it was fun to watch. “God Help the Girl” was more of a mood than a story, like if you hung a collage in your locker of all your favorite references and actors and musicians, and it came to life and sang you “Belle and Sebastian” songs. I say this as someone for whom that sounds a rather appealing concept. I can also acknowledge that this kind of high-style hipster prancing about can land well on the “too cute” side. Cynics need not apply.