Have you caught this movie, written and directed by Stuart Murdoch from Belle and Sebastian? It’s a musical, with songs by Murdoch and collaborators, and a total mess, no consistent tone, no consistent point of view, with scenes that go on forever and missing chunks of narrative that might have made those scenes make more sense, characters who are sometimes cliche and sometimes inexplicable. But it’s also sweet and lively, and at its best manages a Wes Anderson/Francois Truffaut feel of whimsy grounded in (or as a defense against) reality, of a self-contained world lovingly detailed. I totally enjoyed it, but then, three misfits who bond over a mutual love of music: you had me at hello.

The soundtrack works better than the movie in some ways, though you really have to have seen the movie to appreciate it. Most of the songs have a mid-sixties pop/girl group feel to them, very Dusty Springfield, with a few interior-monologue ballads thrown in, and repeated listenings reveal the elusive melodies. The lyrics sometimes felt too expository in the film when accompanied by images that corresponded to them exactly, but here on CD that’s not a problem. You also don’t notice as much that some of those lyrics allude to plot and character developments that Murdoch either didn’t get around to or left on the cutting room floor (was there supposed to be a love triangle? were the two main female characters supposed to start out as rivals before becoming friends?)

Murdoch chooses to include dialogue from the movie as tracks between some songs, which I at first dreaded and suspected arose from the same self-indulgence that made the movie such a mess, but these exchanges are short and well-chosen and remind you these songs are meant to sung by characters, meant to be expressions of their feelings.

In this exuberant song, a woman–Eve–dresses up and goes to a club looking for her Dream Boy, and when she doesn’t find him (because “he don’t exist”) she is left to dance with her female friend, Cassie. Which is fine–as Cassie “dances madly like a boxing kangaroo,” Eve admits “what do I care what I look like/when I feel this good.” Or as she says in another song: “I learned to dance/I didn’t have to learn.” She does still long for that “lover with the candour of friend” who can be “a brother when the chips are down,” but also seems surprised and pleased that the music and the dancing and the friendship with Cassie are more than enough to fill the gap. The joy in the vocal is irresistable.

People waking up to unexpected feelings: that’s a constant theme in the songs in this soundtrack, and in much of Belle and Sebastian. Others include the necessity of friendship, even if flawed, and the longing not to be fragile. I’m mostly impressed that a guy Murdoch, who’s been in the music industry for going on 20 years now, can still manage to remember and simulate innocence this well.

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