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SXSW rewind review: 'God Help the Girl'

God Help the Girl


How do you create the perfect atmosphere for a festival screening of a cute-as-can-be musical?

From left to right: Olly Alexander, Emily Browning and Hannah Murray star in the exceptional "God Help the Girl"
Barry Mendel Productions, Amplify

Invite a cute-as-can-be children's choir to perform before said screening.

That is exactly what South by Southwest (SXSW) did with their screening of "God Help the Girl" on the final full day of the festival this past Saturday.

With an introduction from Belle & Sebastian's own and writer/director of "God Help the Girl" Stuart Murdoch, the Barton Hills Choir took the stage at the Paramount Theatre in downtown Austin to prepare the crowd for the film ahead. Choosing to sing a collection of songs from the "God Help the Girl" album as well as a couple Belle & Sebastian tunes, the children helped set the cute and fun tone that the following film would build upon.

A project years in the making, the "God Help the Girl" film takes its music and much of its story from the music album of the same name by the aforementioned Murdoch, his Belle & Sebastian bandmates and vocalist Catherine Ireton.

The Sundance award winning film wastes no time in getting to the music with Eve played by the striking Emily Browning singing the somewhat jazzy "Act of the Apostle" as she sneaks out of her mental health facility on the way to a concert (what else would she be going to?).

This earliest segment of the film establishes so many crucial elements to making a movie musical work. First, we see that there is something off and dark about Eve which keeps the cute songs from becoming nauseatingly cute. Second, the film makes the immediate statement that it is indeed a musical rather than a drama with a few songs mixed in.

That second fact helps erase feeling of random "bursting out into song" that has plagued movie musicals for years. In short, the singing in "God Help the Girl" feels authentic and engaging from the beginning all the way through this delightful film.

What also hits from the very first frame is the gorgeous cinematography from veteran Giles Nuttgens helping virgin filmmaker Murdoch make not only a beautiful sounding but an impeccable looking film as well.

Also helping the film stand out is that the film was shot on 16 mm and Super 8 film. Not only does this provide a vintage touch with some random spots and pops but films shot on film are increasingly rare in this digital world especially non-35mm film.

Completing a set of unique technical features in "God Help the Girl" is the choice to film most of the songs like a music video. This decision was made to match up with the phrase "life is like a song" and in "God Help the Girl" that phrase is taken literally. Some may take this stylistic choice as choppy but to this writer the choice helped break the film up in a positive way and kept the film from seeming tired or dragged out by its end.

When talking about "God Help the Girl," one should not forget to mention the outstanding performances from its young cast. With perhaps the best performance of her career, Emily Browning dominates the screen as Eve with all the confidence and subtlety the character demands. Olly Alexander also shines as the awkward but stubborn James who quickly falls head-over-heels for the complicated Eve. Strong chemistry between the two young actors is a necessity and both showcase that required chemistry with each other without a doubt.

However, while Browning and Alexander excel in "God Help the Girl," one can't leave out the always adorable and quirky Hannah Murray. Murray once again plays a girl named Cassie who coincidentally could be the clone of the character she played on the U.K. television drama "Skins." While not one of the two most central characters, Cassie is a necessary part of the trio and helps provide some comic relief to the tension and drama that develops between Eve and James as the story progresses.

Once all is said and done, "God Help the Girl" plays like a whimsical and musical dream. Despite its ending not tying everything up into a pretty little bow, the film will leave you singing and dancing on the way out of the theater as almost every musical should.

Not too bad for a career musician's first film...not bad at all.

"God Help the Girl" is scheduled for nationwide release in September 2014.

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