With bouncy pop tunes and a breezy tone, this Scottish musical sometimes feels so weightless that it seems to float right out of existence. At other times it's startlingly dark and moving, touching on earthy emotions and important themes. The tonal shifts may be rather jarring, but the film as a whole is a joy to watch, especially as it makes some pointed comments on both mental illness and nature of artistic creation.
Set in Glasgow, the story centres on Eve (Emily Browning), who is so obsessed with composing music that she's being treated in a mental hospital. After she escapes she meets James (Olly Alexander), a young singer-guitarist who is a bit unnerved when she follows him home, worms her way into his life and spurs him to start a band with music student Cassie (Hannah Murray). James falls for Eve, but she's clearly only interested in being friends, especially since she has a crush on cool bad-boy Anton (Pierre Boulanger), the lead singer of a rival band. And even Cassie seems out of reach, since she flirts with every man she meets. But neither James nor Cassie knows the truth about Eve's mental state.
Writer-director Stuart Murdoch is the lead singer of the Glasgow band Belle and Sebastian, and the film is peppered with songs written for their album but sung live on-camera by the cast members. As a filmmaker, Murdoch has a remarkably light touch, as well as a gift for weaving the music right into the fabric of the movie. This is certainly not the usual rom-com: the characters have unsuspected depth that's beautifully tapped by the sharp young cast members. The bravely immersive Browning and charming Alexander are a terrific double-act, with very different musical styles that gel together cleverly - think Ellie Goulding and Ed Sheeran. And the addition of Murray's lively Cassie to the equation adds a superb dynamic.
Essentially, this is a story about young artists who are terrified of growing up, worried that the realities of life will crush their creative souls. But the film's true focus is on the possibilities that are wide open in front of them, which makes watching it a remarkably hopeful experience. Even if the movie is light and sometimes silly, there's a strong kick to the songs, which express more complex emotions as they expose the characters' inner thoughts and feelings. It's the kind of film that's not easy to get a grip on, but it's also so winning that viewers willing to be carried away will find that the deeper themes linger in the mind like a favourite old song.
Run time: 111 mins
In Theaters: Friday 5th September 2014
Box Office USA: $0.1M
Distributed by: Amplify
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 69%
Fresh: 43 Rotten: 19
IMDB: 6.6 / 10
Director: Stuart Murdoch
Producer: Barry Mendel
Screenwriter: Stuart Murdoch
Also starring: Barry Mendel
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