Since 1996, Scottish musician Stuart Murdoch has earned a decent crust writing songs for his musical projects Belle and Sebastian and God Help the Girl. Now, apparently eager to further stretch his creative muscles, Murdoch has directed his first feature film, and it’s a winner.
Taking its title from the second of Murdoch’s pop outfits, God Help the Girl (opening at San Francisco’s Roxie Theatre on Friday, Sept. 12t – sadly, no Berkeley play dates are currently scheduled) is cinematically analogous to Murdoch’s best songs: bittersweet, literate, and wryly humorous in equal measure, it’s bound and determined to win over even the most curmudgeonly of hearts.
Set in Glasgow, the film stars charming newcomer Emily Browning as Eve, a college-age Australian expat songwriter institutionalized in a home for wayward (anorexic?) girls. Escaping one evening from her minimum security lock-up, Eve attends a rock show at Glasgow’s famous Barrowlands Ballroom, where she witnesses a performance by indie rock gods Wobbly Legged Rats and befriends opening act James (Olly Alexander).
Awkward, nerdy James immediately recognizes Eve’s tremendous tune-spinning talent, but can’t compete with handsome and incredibly unctuous Rats lead singer Anton (Pierre Boulanger) for her affections. Nonetheless, James and fellow music student Cassie (Hannah Murray) make common cause with Eve during a kayaking trip, planning a summer of musical adventures in which they will conquer Glasgow University’s student union and other local music venues.
Imagine a cross between Bill Forsyth’s Gregory’s Girl (1981) and the collected works of Jacques Demy, and you’ll have some idea of what to expect from God Help the Girl. Though now in his mid-forties, Murdoch well remembers the beauty, uncertainty, and fragility of young adulthood and captures it here brilliantly. A wonderful film well worth a trip across the Bay Bridge, God Help the Girl’s terrific Murdoch-penned songtrack should (if there’s any justice in the world) provide at least one nominated song at next year’s Academy Awards.
Berkeley filmmaker Kevin Kunze’s excellent new documentary Mobilize isn’t screening in Berkeley, either, but does make its Bay Area debut on the other side of the Caldecott Tunnel. Screening at 1:00 p.m on Friday, Sept. 12 at Moraga’s Rheem Theatre as part of the 17th California Independent Film Festival, it’s an earnest and reasonably convincing look at the possible connection between cellphone radiation and cancer.
In addition to narrating his film, Kunze appears onscreen during interview segments, and his deadpan presence works in the film’s favor. Bespectacled and straight-laced, he’s as far from the stereotype of the mung bean eating, yurt inhabiting, tin-foil hat wearing Berkeley hippy as one could imagine. Mobilize makes a good case that you should try to cut down on your calls — or at the very least, hold your phone away from your head. (And don’t put it in your pants pocket or bra, either. You’ve been warned!)
Berkeleyside’s film writer John Seal writes a weekly movie recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as well as a column in The Phantom of the Movies’ Videoscope, an old-fashioned paper magazine, published quarterly. Read more from Big Screen Berkeley on Berkeleyside.
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