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Screened Plays

Column 13: Belle & Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch Tries On The Movie Musical

Expanding on the world he’s created through his music comes Stuart Murdoch’s God Help the Girl. The frontman of indie-pop legends Belle & Sebastian makes his directorial debut with this coming-of-age musical that brings all the same retro twee kitsch and emotional vulnerability that style his music to his debut film.

While the film’s plot isn’t terribly dense, the film rather plays through a series of musical vignettes that flesh out it’s characters and speak to it’s wider themes about the various purposes for musical expression. The transition isn’t always seamless as at times, the change in emotional tone that works well in the music is slightly more jarring on screen. The film also seems to runs a bit longer than it needs to, as if Murdoch was intent on finding room for every song written in the film.

That said, when these sequences work (and the majority do), they really shine. Stars Emily Browning and Oily Alexander are perfect vessels for Murdoch’s words and do his songs justice. Sequences like “I’ll Have to Dance with Cassie” are near Broadway-spectacle, while songs like the more modest acoustic “Pretty When the Wind Blows” are both beautiful and heart-wrenching. The highlight for me though is Emily Browning’s performance of “The Psychiatrist Is In,” which seems to provide a perfect bridge from the Belle & Sebastian canon of Murdoch’s past and the more traditional musical-fare of the film.

God Help the Girl isn’t for everyone. It’s messy, inconsistent, and certainly not for those who dislike the twee-pop of Belle & Sebastian. Those willing to take a chance on it, though, will find a surprisingly ambitious and fully realized film debut, one with a host of thoroughly likable and heart-warming characters and songs.

Written by Nick Muldoon

Written by Nick Muldoon