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'God Help the Girl' review: This charming Glasgow indie musical is a must-see

God Help the Girl movie review

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Once in a while, you step into a darkened movie theater not knowing much about the film you’re about to see, and you have the lovely experience of really being transported via the visuals, music and story. Such is the case with Stuart Murdoch’s debut film, “God Help the Girl.” Although a much lighter frolic, “God Help the Girl” has vibes of another indie hit premiering a few summers back called “Once.” Like that film, this one will send viewers out of the theaters humming a number of tunes and wishing they could hang, hear updates, and sing along with this fictional musical trio.

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 25: Director Stuart Murdoch, Emily Browning, Olly Alexander and Hannah Murray attend the 'God Help The Girl' New York Special Screening at Nitehawk Cinema on August 25, 2014 in New York City.
Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

Writer-director Murdoch is also the lead singer of the acclaimed indie pop band, Belle and Sebastian. Per the film’s production notes, the genesis for the film came one day while Murdoch was on a run; he got a tune stuck in head. Writing up the song, he knew that it wasn’t right for his band, Belle and Sebastian. But that song led to more songs and soon, he had a story that featured the characters Eve, James and Cassie as they spent a bohemian summer in Glasgow and formed a pop band.

“God Help the Girl” was some 10 years in the making and every step of the way was a labor of love. Wanting to hear and fully realize the potential of the songs, Murdoch first cast young, semi-known and unknown singers, Catherine Ireton, Brittany Stallings, Neil Hannon, Dina Banhole and Aysa, after an exhaustive search. Pleased with the songs, he decided to record and release an album of the same name in 2009. The album was critically acclaimed.

Being a fan of Belle and Sebastian and seeing Murdoch’s casting notice, indie film producer Barry Mendel (“Rushmore”) reached out and soon partnered with the singer on developing a script and raising funds (including a Kickstarter campaign). After a Belle and Sebastian tour, and several script rewrites, it was time to cast actors who could sing for the film.

Again another far-reaching search found the excellent Emily Browning who stars as Eve, a complicated woman first seen in a hospital for depression and possible eating disorders, that is before breaking out, and into song. As James, the band’s leader, guitarist and all around swell guy (even if he does remain in his safe zone without big future life plans), Murdoch and team found the charming Olly Alexander. And finally, as Cassie, the rich friend who wants to learn music, Hannah Murray (“Game of Throne’s” Gilly) was cast. All three are winning in their performances and are perfect compliments to one another.

Murdoch’s labor of love for “God Help the Girl” produced two albums – the new soundtrack and the film’s 2009 precursor, plus a charming indie feature. Simply put, “God Help the Girl” will resonate with viewers who want to relish the time in one’s life before jobs and commitments, and where it was entirely feasible to break into song while in Glasgow or any city, for that matter.

Premiering at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, “God Help the Girl” won the Special Jury Prize, and opens in Los Angeles September 5 at the Laemmle Royal Theatre.

Special filmmaker event: On Friday, September 5, writer-director Stuart Murdoch will participate in a Q&A after the 7pm show and introduce the 9:55 p.m. screening at the Laemmle Royal Theatre.