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The new movie God Help the Girl, writer/director Stuart Murdoch’s maiden voyage of a film, has, at its core, a group of young people who must be the best dressed teens on the face of the planet.
Now, I don’t know whether to call their style hipster, retro, throwback or ironic (or, as one of my college professors once had included on his multiple choice tests, e. all of the above, f. none of the above, or g. some of the above, please specify), but I do know that everyone on screen is dressed within an inch of their lives in outfits that made me think they did nothing all day but stand in front of a mirror, mixing and matching, matching and mixing.
All the while depressing the hell out of me for not being that young anymore (if I ever was that young, I mean, were any of us ever that young, really?) and so wishing I had had as solid a sense of fashion when I was their age (if, again, I ever was their age).
God Help the Girl is a musical, but it’s certainly not one of those MGM/Arthur Freed ones with big production values that have made a comeback lately as denoted by the larger than life Les Miserables, Chicago and Moulin Rouge (as well as the soon to be released Into the Woods and, based on the previews, shudder, Annie).
It’s more in line with the recent intimate with a touch of cinema verité musicals of Once, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, Begin Again and Love Songs, as well as the television series Flight of the Conchords (you now have your Film 101 homework for the week).
The story begins with the lovely, simply lovely Eve, an aspiring singer/song writer, breaking out of a sort of rehabilitation hospital (she has an eating disorder and suffers from depression), and suddenly beginning to sing as she strolls away from her home away from home.
It’s a little awkward, I must admit. Her abrupt and unexpected whimsical warbling isn’t as finessed as well as one might wish it to be.
But it’s not long, almost immediately in fact, that the awkwardness slips away. And the songs are so wonderful and the story so beautifully, bitterly sweet and everything and everyone in it just so damn charming, that there was no possible way of not quickly succumbing to the movie’s wistful quirkiness.
Eve makes her way to a concert hall in time for two acts: Anton, a charismatic but self-absorbed bad boy rockster, who is followed by the nerdy James, who gets into a fight with a drummer who overpowers his song so no one can hear him sing.
Eve platonically moves in with James while falling in love with Anton, and she and James start a band with the help of Cassie, a pianist that James gives lessons to.
But Eve’s emotional issues and Anton’s caddishness (well, he is French, after all) force her to return to hospital where she has to find her way back via creativity and a little help from her friends.
All the while the story alluding to films as varied as A Hard Day’s Night and The Sound of Music.
The plot is quirky and haphazard. Murdoch, in his writing and directing, comes across as not particularly caring that much about employing a strong cause and effect storyline. Rather he seems more to take pride in the movie’s made up as it goes along style, getting to where it’s going on its own slacker terms.
One might say that it’s a bit too hip for its own good, except that I suspect it has the exact amount of hipness it should have.
The music and lyrics, also by Murdoch (and based on a side project band also called God Help the Girl), are as relaxed and haphazard as the plot, with rhythms and rhymes that seem to have their own lackadaisical rules.
They have the same loose style employed in such films as Where the Wild Things Are and, well, I was going to say Juno, and then I found out that Murdoch wrote a couple of songs for that film, so I guess I was right on base with that.
At any rate, it’s a thrill every time someone delivers one of them.
The dance numbers have a certain garage sale sweetness to them, but are possibly the least interesting aspect of the movie (no one has quite figured out a way to choreograph on a budget and no one, but no one, seems to know how to edit them anymore).
With Emily Browning as Eve; Olly Alexander as James; Hannah Murray as Cassie (who this time, unlike her role in Skins, is the one without the eating disorder; you can also catch her as Gilly in Game of Thrones); and Pierre Boulanger (who I first saw in Monsieur Ibrahim as the teen who bought cat food and served it to his father as paté) as the cad, Anton, who sounds like he has one of the worst accents there are, but apparently he was born in France (and looks just like his name for some reason I can’t explain).
God Save the Girl is simply a joy. Pure unadulterated joy.
It’s as lovely, simply lovely as Eve.
See this movie.
Like the movie My Week With Marilyn, The Last of Robin Hood is a story about an aging movie star and his interaction with an up and coming actress.
However, I’m not sure that it’s going to do for its stars, Kevin Kline, Dakota Fanning and Susan Sarandon, what …Marilyn did for Kenneth Branagh and Michelle Williams, i.e., get the critics singing their praises while garnering them Oscar nominations.
It’s not that they are bad. In fact, all three thespians are rather good. They certainly more than get the job done, and Kline sounds and looks remarkably like Errol Flynn, the former studio star of such swashbucklers as Robin Hood and The Sea Hawk.
In a way, I’m surprised. If truth be told, I’ve never cared much for Kline in dramatic roles. They just never felt the right size for him. He always seemed just a tad insincere.
As a comic farceur, though, in such films as A Fish Called Wanda and In & Out, there was just something about him, a certain twinkle in his eye, maybe, or a certain wittiness to his posture, that served him in good stead.
But here, Flynn seems a perfect fit for him, and he plays the role with a great deal of empathy.
The main problem is the screenplay, by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland (both of whom also directed—they are frequent collaborators whose best movie so far is Quinceañera).
It has plenty of wit and a strong period feel, but it’s told from the viewpoint of three different characters: Flynn, of course; Beverly Aadland (now we know where that “a” from Barbra Streisand’s name ended up), the fifteen going on thirty who pretends to be eighteen Lolita who Flynn falls in love with; and Florence Aadland, Beverly’s mother who wears eyeglasses that scream 1950’s.
But having so many viewpoints, in this case, never gives the screenplay enough time to dramatize any one story satisfactorily, and so the movie ends up feeling more like a series of anecdotes and incidents with no real build.
And there’s never any solid conflict. There are some moments of people methinks protesting too much, but in the end, the story isn’t focused enough for any single battle of wills to take hold.
So the whole thing falls a bit flat.
Susan Sarandon plays Florence as if she’s getting ready to go on stage as Mama Rose. Dakota Fanning plays Beverly with an immense amount of empathy. Both are quite excellent.
But perhaps the real star of the show is the Mad Men like art decoration and costumes that seemed more chosen to reflect a fanatical devotion to a time period rather than furniture, props, dresses and suits that have a relaxed lived in look. Everything looks like someone took an hour just to decide whether it was placed in the most optimum location.
Though I may sound snarky, I’m not complaining. It’s a beautiful movie to look at and all the technicians and designers deserve high praise.
But in the end, there was never an emotional connection to any of the characters. And that was because no single one was every explored deeply enough to garner any from the audience.
With Max Casella (Doogie Houser’s bestie friend) as Stanley Kubrick—he has a nice way with the word “awkward”; Bryan Bratt (the “compassionate” slave owner in 12 Years a Slave) as costume designer Ory Kelly; Matt Kane (John Darling of Once Upon a Time) as Flynn’s assistant Matt; and Sean Flynn, grandson of Errol, in a cameo as a grip.
As a bit of trivia, Flynn is first introduced as in the process of filming Too Much, Too Soon, a movie in which he plays his old friend John Barrymore in a biopic of Barrymore’s daughter, Diana (one of Flynn’s best performances). I thought it a clever choice to begin the film with an actor playing an actor who is playing another actor.