Caitlin Moran‘s novel (who also wrote the screenplay) ‘How To Build a Girl‘ tells the story of teenager Johanna Morrigan’s (Beanie Feldstein – Booksmart) journey as she reinvents herself as Dolly Wilde. Yesterday, a teenager in search of her own identity; today, a sex-positive wild child with an infamous look, and trash talking the finest artists of her era for her new job as a critic in London, to help out her financially struggling family in Wolverhampton.
Feldstein plays a somewhat similar, but this time British, character as she did in last year’s Booksmart. A tad bit more insecure, but still driven and charismatic. It does distract a little when she channels Melanie C in ‘Spiceworld’ with her British accent. Not necessarily a bad thing, since this is mostly the case in the first half of the film, before Johanna turns into a completely different version of herself. Heavily influenced by the collection of talking portraits of important historic figures on her bedroom wall, and by connecting with her brother Krissi (Laurie Kynaston – The Trouble With Maggie Cole), she goes on to forming a young woman’s personality who can stand on her own for a big future to come.
The chemistry between the members of the Morrigan-family feels genuine. Especially Paddy Considine (HBO’s ‘The Outsider‘) as Johanna’s father and wannabe rock’n’roll-fanatic, has some heartwarming moments with his on screen daughter and is a lot of fun to watch. When it comes to a true scene stealing performance, we have to wait until about halfway into the film, when Johanna gets to interview rocker John Kite. Played by Alfie Allen (HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones‘), he has one big scene in a hotel room with Feldstein, which isn’t just emotionally raw, but showcases once again how good he is at playing a vulnerable, troubled man.
Coky Giedroyc has directed plenty of episodes for television (most recently ‘Harlots‘), but never seems to want to upstage that with something that’s made for the big screen. Everything feels a bit too BBC, and while there’s nothing wrong with that, it does limit the wide range of people that could show interest in watching this. Nothing makes ‘How To Build a Girl‘ stand out. It feels like it borrows a lot from other coming-of-age films, and while there is a lot of clever stuff to be found, it doesn’t particularly digs itself into your brain to be memorable. The script itself is riddled with clever nods to iconic literary figures (such as Little Women’s Jo March), and you’ll never listen to Annie’s “Tomorrow” the same way ever again.
‘How To Build a Girl‘ was made to connect with plenty of teenagers out there, who might be struggling with finding their own identity. As far as originality goes, it doesn’t really discover any new ground, which for a film like this might be enough to entertain those who are looking for just a straightforward charming story.
Review – ‘How To Build a Girl’
Reviewed online, May 11, 2020. Rating: R. Running time: 102 min.
PRODUCTION: A IFC Films release of a Film4, Lionsgate UK, Monumental Pictures, Tango Entertainment production. Producers: Debra Hayward, Alison Owen. Executive producer: Ollie Madden.
CREW: Director: Coky Giedroyc. Screenplay: Caitlin Moran. Camera: Hubert Taczanowski. Editors: Gary Dollner, Gareth C. Scales. Music: Oli Julian.
WITH: Beanie Feldstein, Paddy Considine, Sarah Solemani, Alfie Allen, Chris O’Dowd, Emma Thompson, Laurie Kynaston.