Overview: A young woman (Emily Browning) suffering from anorexia and depression finds solace in songwriting and starts a band. Amplify; 2014; Not Rated; 111 Minutes
Pretty Eve In The Tub: The opening scene of God Help the Girl is indescribably lovely. From the first words out of Emily Browning’s mouth, I was smiling. Her character, Eve, sneaks out of a hospital to go see a concert, musically narrating her plan. The scene has the wit of Wes Anderson’s best work without his occasionally crushing visual affect. In the following sequence, Eve returns to the hospital, and that charm is replaced with a chilly melancholy. Eve is very sick, apparently suffering from anorexia and depression. These diseases aren’t little quirks to make Eve a more “interesting” character, they’re killing her. Eve is encouraged to use songwriting as an outlet for her pain, but the film never once suggests that making music (or any creative act) is a cure for mental illness. I loved almost everything about God Help the Girl, but that single fact elevates its significance quite a bit. Calling this film “twee” completely ignores its strong undercurrent of sadness.
Musician, Please Take Heed: It’s a musical, and one of the best contemporary ones in a while. And, yes, the songs are great. “Down and Dusky Blonde” captures an elusive emotional middle-ground between smiling and crying, I’ve been dancing to “I’ll Have To Dance With Cassie” constantly, and the title track (which isn’t actually played in the film, weirdly) is bouncy and beautifully sincere. Cinematically, God Help the Girl borrows pretty heavily from A Hard Day’s Night-style band films, explicitly referencing that film’s most famous scene at one point. The fact that it’s about a band means that it can maintain “realism” while still being a musical, but one of the best things about the film is that it doesn’t. It embraces the unreality that comes with musicals without sacrificing emotional authenticity.
Come Monday Night: To be honest, the worst thing about this film is that there isn’t enough of it. It’s one of those films that you wish would go on forever, even though you know that it’s perfect the way it is. Browning and her co-stars, Olly Alexander and Hannah Murphy, are so utterly lovable, which makes their pain all the more palpable. It’s characters like these that refute the notion that characters are bad if they aren’t “three-dimensional.” They aren’t complex characters, and that’s fine. They aren’t complex people. Most young people aren’t. What matters is what they feel and what they do because of those feelings, it’s as simple as that. It’s nice to spend time with them, and when the film ends you wish you had more.
Wrap-Up: God Help the Girl is an absolute joy from start to finish, bursting with intelligence and poppy warmth.