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God Help The Girl

“Pop music has been on a slide since 1969,” says one of the trio of lead characters in God Help the Girl, the debut film from Belle and Sebastian leader Stuart Murdoch. Distilling the Scottish band’s numerous inspirations inevitably leads back to that glory year, and their output since 1997 has included some of the most gorgeously produced pop music that has ever made a fan hit “REPEAT” over and over and over.

B&S’s reputation for being the epitome of twee is not entirely deserved; the music is catchy but imaginative, and the lyrics, if you can get through the perplexing slang, are often darker than the bright arrangements would lead you to think. A song like “Lazy Line Painter Jane” isn’t far from early Lou Reed, and Murdoch has long mined a similar vein to “Village Green Preservation Society”—era Kinks.

But it’s not easy to transfer a musical sensibility to a cinematic one: just ask Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Frank Zappa or Paul McCartney. The story of a mentally troubled girl who forms a band with two equally untethered companions during a Glasgow summer, God Help the Girl offers a lot of wonderful songs in an underdeveloped setting.

After name checks for famous depressives Nick Drake and Ian Curtis in the first 30 seconds, we’re introduced to Eve (Emily Browning), a waifish lass escaping the ward where she is being treated for an eating disorder and possibly attempted suicide. (Details are fuzzy.) Songwriting has been good therapy for her, so when she sees James (Olly Alexander), a bespectacled guitarist getting the worst of an onstage argument with his drummer, she enlists him as her musical collaborator. He brings in Cassie (Hannah Murray), a bored posh girl to whom he has been giving guitar lessons, and the stage is set.

But for what? It’s not a feelgood rags to riches story, but Murdoch isn’t able to play the pretty and the grungy off each other the way he does in his music. And as lovely as the songs are, their visualizations are pretty uninspired. There are the kind of visual quotes you might expect from a first time filmmaker enamored of the 1960s—A Hard Day’s Night, Godard’s Band of Outsiders—but the story seems to waft from scene to scene with no clear sense of purpose. It all pleases the ear and doesn’t hurt the eye (it was shot on super 16mm film, which gives it a subtly retro look) , but as a keepsake you’re more likely to place an order for the soundtrack album than the DVD.

Opens Friday at the North Park. On Fri and Weds, the 7 pm show will be preceded by a 30-minute film of Belle and Sebastian performing songs from the film at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Watch the trailer for God Help The Girl

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