Plays out like one long B-side

The Star Early Edition - - TONIGHT FILM - DAVID ROONEY

IS SCOT­LAND be­com­ing the lead­ing pro­ducer of twee movie mu­si­cals? On the heels of Sun­shine on Leith, an Ed­in­burgh-set juke­box jour­ney through The Pro­claimers’ song cat­a­logue, comes the Glas­gow re­sponse, God Help the Girl, writ­ten and di­rected by Stu­art Mur­doch.

As front­man of in­die cham­ber pop out­fit Belle & Se­bas­tian, Mur­doch has proved him­self an in­spired sto­ry­teller, spin­ning cap­ti­vat­ing three- or four-minute nar­ra­tives about mis­un­der­stood ge­niuses, lovelorn out­siders and sickly kids who weren’t good at sports. But the wist­ful plea­sures are stretched thin in a film that blurs the line sep­a­rat­ing self-irony from tire­some self-con­scious­ness.

The project be­gan as an al­bum of the­mat­i­cally linked ma­te­rial, re­leased in 2009 and fea­tur­ing var­i­ous fe­male vo­cal­ists. What’s most dis­ap­point­ing about the film coaxed from that source is how mu­si­cally un­in­ter­est­ing it is. B&S de­trac­tors tend to dis­miss their work as feath­er­weight whimsy. But the band’s best al­bums – If You’re Feel­ing Sin­is­ter, The Life Pur­suit, Dear Catas­tro­phe Wait­ress – are bril­liant, ro­bust col­lec­tions of catchy tunes, or­nate ar­range­ments and witty lyrics that plant their feet in the ’60s while ref­er­enc­ing mul­ti­ple decades of Bri­tish, French and Amer­i­can pop and folk.

Per­haps be­cause Mur­doch’s songs are so in­her­ently cin­e­matic on their own terms, they re­sist lit­eral trans­la­tion to the screen. One of the least mem­o­rable B&S al­bums was Sto­ry­telling, which was writ­ten for, but mostly un­used in, the 2001 Todd Solondz movie of the same name. Un­like that ven­ture, God Help the Girl didn’t in­volve the mine­field of col­lab­o­ra­tion with another artist, and yet, with few ex­cep­tions, the songs feel tacked-on and weight­less rather than a driv­ing force in the plot.

Not that the word “plot” re­ally ap­plies. The cen­tral fig­ure is Eve (Brown­ing), an Aus­tralian frus­trated song­writer far from home, hos­pi­talised for de­pres­sion and an eat­ing disorder in what must be the world’s most un­su­per­vised men­tal-health fa­cil­ity. Slip­ping out one night, she catches the eye of An­ton (Boulanger), a sexy Swiss-Ger­man rocker per­form­ing at a lo­cal club. But it’s James (Alexan­der), the hu­mil­i­ated English gui­tarist and singer of the failed act that fol­lows, who ends up tak­ing care of her.

Eve moves out of the hos­pi­tal and into a spare room in James’s flat, pre­tend­ing not to no­tice his gi­gan­tic crush on her. In­stead, she keeps count­ing on nar­cis­sis­tic An­ton to pass on her song demo to a pair of ra­dio hosts known for launch­ing new tal­ent. In the mean­time, Eve tags along to meet James’s rich mu­sic stu­dent, Cassie (Mur­ray), another trans­planted Brit, who com­pletes the trio. Out of nowhere, their sum­mer-long am­ble be­comes a let’s-form-a-band movie.

The three leads all have dis­tinct charms and their own way with a song, but as a mu­si­cal com­ing-ofage story their jour­ney lacks def­i­ni­tion. Lots of time is spent with them kayak­ing on the River Clyde or skip­ping around parks and wear­ing retro fash­ion and strik­ing poses while they talk about how they want the mu­sic to sound.

But it feels like almost an en­tire film made up of airy filler in the ab­sence of character de­vel­op­ment, tan­gi­ble con­flict, emo­tional in­sight or any­thing but the soft­est of res­o­lu­tions.

Maybe th­ese three are play­ing at be­ing in a band be­cause they don’t yet know what to do with their lives. But if that’s Mur­doch’s point, it’s an un­sat­is­fy­ing one.

The character who re­veals the most in­ter­est­ing in­ner life is James, per­haps the clos­est thing to a stand-in for Mur­doch. In many ways it’s a thank­less role, bol­ster­ing Eve and get­ting lit­tle in re­turn. But Alexan­der brings hu­mour and a nice touch of nerdy re­silience to the character.

While it’s in­sub­stan­tial and way over­long, the film’s bright, cheer­ful look is easy on the eyes. And a few songs are quite ef­fec­tive at re­in­forc­ing the warm con­nec­tions among the char­ac­ters. – The Hol­ly­wood Re­porter

If you liked What If or Frank, you will like this.

DE­PRESSED: Eve (Brown­ing) is a trou­bled song­writer far from home.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.