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VIFF 2014 Review: God Help The Girl

God Help The Girl is an original musical by Stuart Murdoch of three young Glasgow adults who form their own band.

God Help The Girl is an original musical by Stuart Murdoch of three young Glasgow adults who form their own band.

Musicals are always very chancy in terms of putting them on screen, especially if they’re an adaptation of a legendary musical. Try putting an original musical on screen. That’s what God Help the Girl does. It comes off surprisingly well.

The film starts with Eve singing about the difficulties of being young. Mind you Eve does have her problems as she has an eating disorder which brings her to a psychiatric hospital. Her counselor there tells her she needs guidance to make it out in the world. Eve is defiant and breaks out of the hospital to head to Glasgow to make music.

Over in a Glasgow pub, she meets up with James who leaves his band after an on-stage fight with the drummer. James is an aspiring songwriter who works part-time as a lifeguard and teaches guitar to Cassie, a naive daughter of a rich family. A relationship cooks up with James over time. After meeting Cassie, the three of them spend a lot of time together and compose songs.

Eve is also looking for exposure and hopes to get it through Anton, a singer of the band Wobbly-Legged Rat who’s star is on the rise thanks to a local radio station promoting them. Eve gives Anton her tape hoping it will make it to the radio station and a relationship is brews between the two. The three form a band after James convinces Eve she needs a bass and drum for her songs. They call their band God Help The Girl and they perform a gig and knock the socks of the crowd.

However not all is well as Eve learns that Anton, who’s too arrogant for his own good, never gave the tape to the station, claiming her music lacks professionalism. The two argue and Eve walks off. To make matters worse James finds out about her relationship with Anton and is distraught to the point of distancing himself from her. That leads Eve back to taking pills and returning to the hospital. She meets again with the counselor who tells her she warned her about rushing out into the world on her own. Eventually Eve decides on her own path. The ending is not what one would expect but is fittingly appropriate for the film.

I have to say this is is a brave attempt from Stuart Murdoch to create an original musical and bring it to the big screen. It’s been a long time since there has been something like this. Musicals are always a risk to bring to the big screen whether they’re original or adapted. It’s obvious that God Help The Girl had some risks of their own. There are a few times that leave you wondering is the film lulls back into being a story and makes you forget it’s a musical until the next song comes on. Those who know big-screen musicals know about the feel of a musical on screen. There were a few times I felt the film lost its feel. The musical parts were very good and were able to stay away from crossing the line of  cheesy most of the time but I did notice some imperfections. Even having Eve with an eating disorder makes you wonder if that would make fans of musicals uncomfortable.

One thing I liked about this musical is that it had a lot of songs that gives one the look and feel of the excitement of 60’s rock ‘n roll. The songs for the most part are loaded with energy and really capture the essence of what it is to be young. Another unique thing about this musical is that it musically showed how a lot of the best songs are inspired. We see a lot of themes in God Help The Girl that are quite common in rock and roll songs such as the frustration of fitting in this world, feelings of love and the bizarre love triangles that arise. We also get another reminder about rock and roll. Just after Eve left for college to pursue music, James declares “I think she wrote her best music here.”

The funny thing about this film is that it includes the music from a group called God Help The Girl. For those who don’t know, God Help The Girl was an all-girl group formed by Belle and Sebastian lead singer Stuart Murdoch. They were formed for one time only in 2008 for an album that was eventually released in 2009. The film God Help The Girl is a musical set to those songs and is directed by Murdoch.

I don’t want to go into the subject of ego-tripping but Murdoch puts together a well-constructed and well-written musical that is entertaining. There are some noticeable imperfections in the choreography and editing but the film is mostly together. I also think this will be Murdoch’s only directing effort as I don’t see him directing any other movies in the future. Emily Browning is very good as the protagonist and is able to sing well in her first on screen singing role. Olly Alexander was also very good. He’s the opposite of Emily where he’s actually a singer in a band rather than an actor. Nevertheless he did very well. Hannah Murray was very convincing as the young naive Cassie. The three of them made an excellent trio full of chemistry. Pierre Boulanger was good but his role as Anton was underdeveloped and could have been more.

God Help The Girl was nominated at the Sundance Film Festival for the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize and won a Special Jury award for the ensemble. It was even nominated for the Crystal Bear award at the Berlin Film Festival. It has just been released in the US the last weekend of September and has just fizzled out with just grossing over $100,000. I blame it on the lack of promotion. I think it will develop a better afterlife as a Broadway musical. There’s no talk of a musical version of the film yet but I feel it has a lot of potential of being a hit in that format.

God Help The Girl is a flawed but entertaining original made-for-the-big-screen musical. Oddly enough I think I sensed a bit of Beatlemania there.

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Move Review: The Help

I know what you’re going to say before I talk about The Help. There have already been a lot of movies about racism and segregation. Yes there have been. Nevertheless The Help is a well-made story about showing a black woman’s point of view on racism from a state most synonymous with segregation: Mississippi.

The movie revolves around three women in particular. The first is Abilene; an African American maid whose latest maid work comes right after the death of her son. The second is Milly; another African American maid who was recently fired from Hilly Hollbrook–Jackson’s white female ringleader–for using a toilet meant only for Hilly’s white family and is only rehired by a white ‘misfit’. The third is Skeeter; a white journalism grad from Ole Miss who is unmarried and wants to make a career for herself in writing but lacks a story.

The setting is Jackson, Mississippi. Segregation is alive and well but is facing abolishment. The black maids have had enough while the white upper class females want to see it kept. Hilly herself wants to enact a passage of a law to make it standard for separate bathrooms for white and colored people. Skeeter is tired of writing a housekeeping column and wants an actual story. She comes across it just after her former maid Constantine, who she always looked up to as a child, is mysteriously gone, Hilly speaks her pro-segregation mind at her ‘clique meetings’ and she encounters Aibilene and Minny. They have quite the story to tell and she learns a lot from what they have to say and what they’ve experienced. Even Milly’s story of her revenge on Hilly with ‘the pie’ makes for some colorful. Nevertheless a book publishing company wants to have the points of view from twelve maids, not two. It’s a struggle for Skeeter as she becomes more of a misfit in Hilly’s clique for being unmarried and being opposed to segregation and because of state law: Mississippi law can imprison writers and interviewees for cross-race writing. It isn’t until the shooting death of Civil Rights leader Medgar Evers that Skeeter finally gets her twelve to interview, however giving them pseudonyms to protect their identity. The result is the novel finally being made and boy does it stir up a lot of debate and reactions.

One thing about the ending is that a lot is accomplished and many good things come out of it. Despite positive changes, some bad things still remain and the movie doesn’t end on a completely positive note. The ending takes a turn for a different more negative ending. Nevertheless it did so on the right note. It reminds us that even after segregation was ended for real in the Southern States, some negative aspects of racism still remained and some changes didn’t go as far as it should have.

There have been movies about racism in the past and conquering racism but hardly has there ever been such where it’s on the basis of the black maids for white families. It touches on a common notion. The white children were raised and cared for by the African American maids and many of the children would look up to them as a mother figure. As most of those white children grew up as adults, they would then go on to the hiring and firing of them. They would adopt the cruelness to the maids their own parents had. The story is set in Jackson, Mississippi around the time of the civil rights movements and around the time Jackson, the capitol of Mississippi, is where segregation is possibly the most alive and well. The story features Skeeter, an aspiring writer who’s looking for a story and sees one. Remembering how Constantine was like a mother to her and wondering whatever happened to her, she hasn’t developed the hardness of heart her girlfriends had developed over the years. It is with her willingness to see the maids’ side and write about it that made her want to set the record straight. That helps to create the intrigue of the story.

One of the interesting themes in the movie is oddly enough its use of toilets. Many people including myself still look at toilets as something taboo but in recent decades, many people and many creative artists have defied this taboo and become more public about it and even incorporated it into art. In this film, it plays a significant role because as we remember, toilets were a part of the days segregation: separate ones for whites and colored. The Help presents toilets in many different references. It is Aibilene’s toilet teaching where she shows she’s a better mother to Mae Mobley Leefolt than Mrs. Leefolt is. It is where Minny uses a toilet for white people only in Hilly’s house that gets her fired. It’s where Hilly strongly believes in segregated bathrooms to the point to where she’s willing to take her plea to the surgeon general. It’s also the prank Skeeter uses to pull on Hilly for her lobbying. As taboo as it is, there’s no denying the significance of toilets in the movie.

One thing about the movie The Help is that it’s based on a novel that is complete fiction. That fact might make some question the triumphant moments in the movie. Question it all you want. One thing you can’t deny is that despite it being fiction, there are a lot of hard truths experienced by the African Americans in Mississippi that are portrayed very well and will make you think. Seeing how Hilly treats her maids meanly to the point of firing them instantly and even getting them arrested makes you think how many others were as mean as Hilly. That scene where Minny is with her eldest daughter in a maid’s uniform about to board the bus can also disturb you. Imagine a future that limited. Also that scene where Charlotte told how and why she fired Constantine. How many times do you think that has happened in the past? So the novel may not be based on a true story but possibly based on a thousand true stories.

The directing from Tate Taylor was top notch. He did an excellent job of directing the movie and writing the storyline well. The acting however is what made the movie most. The standout without a doubt was Viola Davis. Her performance of Aibilene was the glue of the movie and had the most to tell. Her acting was full of believability from start to finish. Octavia Spencer was the top scene-stealer as Minny. She was able to make for an excellent turn with adding elements of humor to her role. Emma Stone delivered possibly the best performance of her career. Already people are saying she’s the next big thing. Her performance of Skeeter demonstrates she can also make a good actress of herself. Also a standout is Bryce Dallas Howard. Her character acting was so excellent, she will easily make you hate Hilly.

Overall, The Help is a very excellent movie revealing a harsh reality of 60’s Southern racism. Some say it’s not as harsh of a depiction as it should be. Nevertheless we shouldn’t forget that even in racism situations that aren’t as harsh, the hurt can still be felt and the picture can have an ugliness of its own.