Let’s keep the movies about female musicians, shall we? Yes to 20 Feet from Stardom; yes to Begin Again; a hearty punk-rock yowl of approval to We Are the Best! And a quieter, more introspective yes to God Help the Girl, a whimsical, fey, intimate movie about music, friendship and moving forward.
Eve (Emily Browning) bursts into quiet song the minute she’s slipped out the window of an unidentified Glasgow hospital. Writer-director Stuart Murdoch (of the Scottish band Belle and Sebastian) has it both ways: Characters narrate their thoughts both in song and speech, and sometimes they talk about musically narrating their lives. It’s a little bit of everything, a stylistic mash-up that suits the slim little story and its uncertain characters, who traipse around a Glasgow that looks almost magical.
At a show, Eve meets the bespectacled James (Olly Alexander), who takes a tired and weak Eve home to give her somewhere to crash. His band has had a meltdown, and Eve slips neatly into the musical space in his life. Add Cassie (Hannah Murray, barely recognizable as Game of Thrones’ Gilly), a lovable rich girl with more enthusiasm than songwriting skill, and a passel of session musicians and you have a band not entirely unlike Belle and Sebastian: many players singing detailed, charming songs.
Eve’s illness gets in the way of her success, to a point, but it’s presented as a piece of Eve’s whole, not the sole thing that defines her. Like her flawed relationship with charismatic pop star boys (Pierre Boulanger is perfect as the too-suave Anton), it’s something she uses music to work through, quietly, on her own terms.
God Help the Girl is a sleepy, autumnal sort of movie, the kind of thing you watch under a thick blanket on a rainy Sunday when you can pause for hot chocolate; it’s a little long and occasionally so self-contained you almost have to will your way back into its little bubble world.
It’s also a much-needed story about a young woman taking her own messy life into her own imperfect hands and making art out of it, warts and all.