Fans of Belle and Sebastian - the bookwormy Scottish pop band with the deft Dylan references and plucky anthems that practically smell of damp tweed - need no other incentive to see God Help the Girl than the news it exists: a movie musical written and directed by Stuart Murdoch, the group's mastermind.
But there are other reasons to recommend this impossibly charming, Glasgow-set song-and-dance story. Murdoch has clearly been boning up on his French new wave. His star, Emily Browning, playing Eve, an escapee from a mental health facility (she has an eating disorder, she has rue), is waifish and wide-eyed in the manner of Anna Karina, Godard's '60s muse. (Vivre sa vie and Bande à part were in heavy rotation on Murdoch's DVD player, to be sure.) The film's conceit - mopey strangers meet, form a band, and take to the dance halls - has a Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney let's-put-on-a-show innocence, and exuberance. The colors are bright, and the big questions that nag the postcollege crowd - like, what do we do with our lives? - are answered with a sulk, and a vintage-store shopping spree.
Browning (Sucker Punch, Julia Leigh's Sleeping Beauty) is joined in God Help the Girl by the defiantly unmanly Olly Alexander, who wears big black-rimmed glasses and an expression of nerdy awe, and Hannah Murray as a more-or-less-stable young woman who aspires to creative stuff, like playing the piano and crooning a tune. The trio work up some numbers and take to the clubs - with day trips to the country so they can picnic and punt on the River Clyde.
It could be argued that there's not much substance in God Help the Girl, but beneath the cute cardigans, football jerseys, and rain hats, there's something sadder, and smarter, going on. Browning, staring down the camera and singing up a storm, brings buckets of soulfulness to a script that might not be terribly deep.
When she starts singing "The Psychiatrist Is In," playing the shrink to Alexander's mildly misanthropic James, the pair kick into a kind of goofy tango. They may not exactly be Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, but there's definitely something going on.
God Help the Girl *** (Out of four stars)
Directed by Stuart Murdoch. With Emily Browning, Olly Alexander, and Hannah Murray. Distributed by
Running time: 1 hour,
Parent's guide: Not rated (adult themes).
Playing at: PFS at the Roxy.EndText