Like Murdoch in the Movies: God Help the Girl

08/27/2014 4:00 AM |

God Help the Girl
Directed by Stuart Murdoch

Stuart Murdoch’s directorial debut sets up delicious expectations (or dread) for the delicate porting over of his deft sketch artistry and wry-vulnerable voice as a singer-songwriter. After all, God Help the Girl has been a long time in the making, as an extension of Murdoch’s band project by the same name, whose songs are performed in the film—a tame yet respectable combination of whimsical low-budge let’s-make-a-band caper and fragile singer-songwriter’s coming-of-age.

Kewpie doll Emily Browning is hardly offscreen for a minute as Eve, the girl in dire need of something as a string-bean jean in treatment at a mental health home. No need to be alarmed: the state that she is in is treated more as a pretext for making radio an escape, and as a source of affectionate, bemused worry by her adoptive pal, froomp-haired guitarist-noodler James (Olly Alexander). Cassie (Hannah Murray), a toothsome upper-class lass who’s taking lessons from James, gets on board and the gang of three is complete, with a few numbers along the way that romp about with the informal, homespun air of Bande à part.

Halfway in, these three are still mulling over making that band—wouldn’t want to rush the perfect pop group, must do it right. And the songs do indeed progress from Eve’s solos (including the opener, inspired by boredom) to goofily 50s-themed, full-band barn-raiser in an all-ages dance hall. The layers of 60s nostalgia aren’t stifling, and the poses feel quaint and casually worn; were there an American indie incarnation ten years ago, we’d be zapped with boldfaced color and elbowed in the ribs, but not so much in Glasgow.

It must be said that Browning is not the most expressive of interpreters, in appearances at least, her face having a sculpted stillness compensated for by her crescendoing songs. Murdoch has an understated take on storytelling, maybe because Eve’s ultimately less interested in her romantic choices (James or a Francophone singer who outfits her at a thrift shop) than making a go of a career, encouraged by a curiously PSA-prominent social worker character. In a way, the film feels like more of a surrogate for Murdoch than the album project does, and when his voice floats in with the end-credits song, you half-expect it as a voiceover instead: “I’m the singer in the band / You’re the loser.”

Opens September 5