The Mary Sue Interview: The Director and Cast of Delightful Indie Musical God Help the Girl
What, you thought this would be another comic book movie post?
Musical nerds, I know you’re reading this. I see you in the comments of our Into the Woods posts and giving us traffic that time Rachel told you how great Heathers The Musical is. You can’t hide from me. Come closer. There’s a musical I need to tell you about. It’s called God Help the Girl, and it’s out in theaters and on VOD starting today. I had the chance to interview the director and its three stars—between the five of us, I think I can convince you to give it a shot.
So what exactly is God Help the Girl? In summary: Eve (Emily Browning) is a young woman with a talent for songwriting but some mental issues—specifically an eating disorder and depression—holding her back. She’s released from the hospital and meets James (Olly Alexander) and Cassie (Game of Thrones‘ Hannah Murray), with whom she forms a band. (Don’t worry, there’s none of the “and now she’s magically cured of all her problems!” tripe that shows up in some other movies about mental health.) From there the movie takes a turn for the Sandlot—specifically, it’s about that “one magic summer” the band has together, singing songs and shooting the shit as the roll around Glasgow, Scotland. Some of the musical numbers are of the traditional “And then everyone starts singing!” variety, while a few are presented as gigs.
Or, put another way, God Help the Girl is Belle and Sebastian: The Musical. Its director is Stuart Murdoch, who co-founded the influential indie Britpop band back in 1996. A few years later the title track of God Helped the Girl popped into his head, and for the next ten years he worked to get the film made. (The album God Help the Girl, Murdoch’s venture into producing a ’60s girl band sound, came during that in-between zone.)
Full disclaimer here: I don’t like indie pop. I don’t dislike it, but I never really got into it as a genre of music. I’m more a movies person, anyway. So I’m not coming at God Help the Girl from the place of being a huge Belle and Sebastian fan. I really liked the movie even without that. It took me a while to get into it, but by the time “I’ll Have to Dance With Cassie,” its biggest song-and-dance number, came around, I was 100% absorbed. It’s not dramatic and spectacular like a lot of musicals are, with the vocals at times intentionally rough around the edges. “I had one singing lesson, which went really badly,” says Murray. Browning took one fewer: “I came in and said to Stuart, ‘What singing teacher should I go to, and I’ll go and do some lessons?’ And he was like, no, don’t, ‘cause I like it if it sounds a bit crap sometimes.”
Instead, God Help the Girl is hallmarked by a low-key attitude and a real emotional sincerity, which helps keep the movie from choking on an overabundance of twee. These are authentic, rounded characters whom Murdoch spent a decade of his life developing, and it comes across in the film that he really loves them. “The way he talked about them you could tell that he knew them so well,” explains Murray. Casting followed naturally. Alexander explains how he got the part of the cynical, serious James, saying “when you audition, everyone had to sing a song to camera. And I was the only one who wrote their own song and played on a little keyboard and sung it to camera. Everyone else had done, like, Bowie covers or something. He was like, ‘That’s something James would do. Something weirder.’ And I thought, if this is what you want the character to be, I understand that.”
“I guess he saw certain things in us that he identified with them,” concurs Murray. Her character is Cassie—”probably not very talented, musically,” compared to Eve and James, she explains, but possessed of “this amazing optimism and desire to just do it, because she wants to do it and because it’s fun… you can’t just be some tortured genius locked up in a room, because you wouldn’t get anything done.” If you can’t tell, Cassie’s the free spirit of the bunch. It was a role Murray relished taking, given her current regular gig is playing the wildling (and professional intimidator of jackasses) Gilly on Game of Thrones: “I was excited to get to be the comic relief, just to play someone so happy. As it turns out you have a much nicer time.” As it happens, Game of Thrones and God Help the Girl were even filming at the same time. “It felt quite nice, actually, to go and do like—I’m giving birth to my father’s baby, and I’m screaming and crying! And then to be like, ‘Oh, but tomorrow I can go and do the musical!’ It was nice to put the trauma to one side and just go and have a sing and a dance.”
As for Browning, though she’s never “been in that extreme place Eve was in, being in hospital and everything,” the actress has an understanding of “being in that place of only feeling calm and comfortable when you’re being creative, when you’re making something, and otherwise feeling anxious and unsettled… I feel like I ‘got’ her.”
As for Murdoch, Alexander and Murray described him as “zen” on-set, despite the fact that this was his first feature. “I was watching a lot of films,” while developing God Help the Girl, he offers, “and not all of them musicals! John Hughes films, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Dazed and Confused, American Graffiti.”
As for musicals—Murdoch “doesn’t love them, per se, the old-fashioned kind. Sometimes I find them very boring, ever since I was child watching with my mum. Endless loops! I couldn’t get into that. [But] there are some gems. I watched Fiddler on the Roof, that’s a great one… The first hour and a half of My Fair Lady is just tremendous. The whole of The Sound of Music is the best. And I’ve got a real soft spot for Jesus Christ Superstar. That’s almost like real opera, there are no words spoken. It’s so great.”
I’ll let the trailer speak for itself now: If you’re not convinced after that, God Help you. (Ba-doom-tiss)
God Help the Girl is out in theaters in limited release today and is also available on iTunes and other VOD platforms. The soundtrack is available through Milan Entertainment Inc. If you see it and don’t like it, you can come back and yell at me.