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Much More Than Belle and Sebastian The Movie

Somehow referencing the heights attempted by the likes of Francis Ford Coppola or Martin Scorsese with regards to the musical is in itself an example of being way off the mark when reviewing a movie like God Help The Girl. Also suggesting it is not cinematic, or that at times it looks like “poorly shot, low-budget music videos” is ludicrously misunderstood in my view. Nor did I appreciate such a long-winded and over-blown written monologue to describe how they were not a fan of the way the music and the images were edited together. Really? Then, who am I to criticize long-winded, right?

Not for one second could I question any particular edit or dissolve or overlapping song (or score) through cut frames in front of me while watch God Help The Girl. It is really not the style of movie (quite breezy and scatty) I guess, were this kind of snobbish over-analysis is particularly relevant. I find it puzzling that a fairly small-scale but charming movie without any agenda but to express itself as a film-making experiment through music and the flitting ambitions of young ones can be subject to such pretentious critical review. But I do respect that we all have different opinions, so let’s draw a rather disgruntled line under that for now, and get on with the show.

There was an era of my own life when I discovered, and would be lifelong listeners of, the indie (or indie-pop) music scene that included (off the top of my head) Belly, Dubstar, Gene, Lush, Cranes, Kristin Hersh, Morissey, Black Box Recorder. I could rattle off a hundred more no doubt, but very rarely am I reminded of such musicians and lifestyles when watching a movie – whether that was meant or not. And a really satisfying movie at that. Not just about the music, no, this is a slice young life complete with portions of angst, avocation, and ambition.

Stuart Murdoch of the gloriously catchy Belle and Sebastian has kind of fulfilled a dream of mine. To take a collection of songs, an album of you like, and channel that musical energy into a narrative film. I’m no musician though, but I have listened to the complete works of Beach House or Rilo Kiley, for example, many, many times and felt the narrative film write itself in my mind. Murdoch, of course, has ever right to attempt this with his own work, and he has every right to fail as a film-maker in the feature-length format. Only he does not fail, not at all. God Help the Girl, for all its intentions and experimental ways, is perfectly lush as a motion picture experience.

Except it does not always quite come across as though you’re watching a narrative film as such, but an extended array of indie pop videos. And there is nothing wrong with that. For in the movie’s execution comes three performers having the time of their life. At least that’s what they have me believe. Who knows how much Murdoch saw of himself in James (Olly Alexander), the boy who just want to make the music he enjoys regardless of the fame and fortune. And his friend Cassie (Hannah Murray) who wants to write songs and ultimately learn as she floats through the clouds. Our heroine, the anorexic and troubled Eve (Emily Browning) joins their circle and literally leads the way for them to form a band. This is not, then, a underdog or success story. Nor is it a Cocteau Twins biopic. It is a musical, were characters sometimes sing when the feeling arises. And I was not cringing when dialogue became verse like I have often done in more elaborate musicals.

The terrific songs (most of which come from Murdoch’s 2009 God Help The Girl music project) glue the narrative, and not only aid the progression of our young characters, but also form strong parts of the story-telling. Pretty Eve In The Tub might seem whimsical and a little too out of place at first, but it gives James the ideal opportunity to be intimate about Eve without it becoming an instant and predictable love story. And I Just Want Your Jeans is a kind of transcendence for Cassie, a quite marvelous song, and one which Eve insists the band need and that Cassie must sing. In the context of the film it should not matter that Murray’s voice is rather nasal, because the character’s modesty makes this an endearing performance. Browning too lends her voice to the songs, and it is, without me knowing of her potential singing history, a really refreshing discovery. It is to her credit too that she appears to be a natural performer. In fact it is uncanny that Browning and Murray appear to offer similarities in appearance and vocals to Sophie Ellis Bexter (Theaudience) and Sarah Cracknell (Saint Etienne) respectively.

The story Murdoch is telling is not necessarily reliant on first-rate vocals though. Eve, James, and Cassie have no intention of applying for Pop Idol. It does not matter if the movie wanders off into sartorial and arty landscapes of Parisian, 1960s, or vintage montages. It is much more about the longing and euphoria of just being able to sing or listen to or share or just enjoy the music. Evade your insecurities or boredom, write some songs and form a band. A song can save your life remember. With the inevitable final gig performances of Down And Dusky Blonde, the three main characters revel in their final performance together before their faces {and the crowd’s applauding and cheering response} genuinely shows their overwhelmed gratitude. And I too felt it, and was grateful. In fact, I simply do not have a bad word to say about any movie experience that feeds my passion for music the way God Help The Girl does. The kind of music that I know and love. And I probably knew I would feel that way as I was watching Emily Browning break into song, and the opening credits begin – a blink and you’ll miss it glimpse of Harriet Wheeler of The Sundays and Blondie on the TV. Cool.


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