Stuart Murdoch, of Scottish indie band Belle and Sebastian, debuts his career as a filmmaker with a musical take on mental illness and the power of music as a form of therapy. Our reporter Rachel Munford attended the festival screening of God Help the Girl, a feature film that revolves around the mental journey of Eve, played by Emily Browning, a young Australian who suffers from an eating disorder that is so severe she is hospitalized.
The film opens with Eve escaping from a mental health ward in Glasgow, breaking into song in typical musical style. Eve ends up at an open mic night at the Barrowlands where after a band has brief fight on stage, she meets and is saved by James, played by Olly Alexander. After a few months back in hospital recording and finding solace in music, Eve leaves to pursue music in Glasgow with James and is later joined by Cassie, played by Hannah Murray, a private school girl who gets guitar lessons from James. They form a band and begin a recording project which is faced with many ups and downs as Eve battles with her condition and depleting medication.
God help the girl is an unusual film that crosses many boundaries between reality and fantasy. It is an obvious indie representation of exaggerated events that at times can be tiring. At 111 minutes long, it feels underdeveloped in some aspects but this is probably due to the excessive cutting that took place to make the film easy to use for distributors, as the original cut was 2 hours 40 minutes.
Eve is complex and impulsive which contributes to a lot of the problems she faces throughout the film. In her recovery she starts to build many relationships, some loving and caring and some destructive such as that with Anton, a Swiss German singer in a terrible indie band. Eve is confused when it comes to this relationship, at one minute troubled with regret, and the next asserting her contentment. The interaction between Eve and her doctor seems to be non-collaborative with Eve simply being told what she needs to do instead of healthy discussion that is encouraged in the current techniques used in cognitive behavioural therapy.
The film focuses mainly on Eve, which means that other characters are left somewhat underdeveloped. James’ character is side-lined completely to make way for Eve despite her dependence on him for emotional stability. We never fully see how this affects his mental health. Cassie is often portrayed as the blond ditzy private school girl, which also seems unfair..
While there may be some downsides with poor character development and flawed plotting, the music is fantastic and certainly one of the film’s saving graces. It is so enjoyable to piece together the plot through lyrics and song. When the songs take over it is almost like a collection of individual music videos drifting back and forth into the fantasy elements of the film.
Overall, God Help the Girl is an excellent debut from Stuart Murdoch, tying in well with the God Help The Girl music project that came first and making delightful use of iconic Glaswegian settings with many famous locations featuring in the film. Eve’s story is original and almost tragic but should not be considered an accurate representation of those suffering with eating disorders.
Written by Rachel Munford