How to Build a Girl
How to Build a Girl makes the case that growing up should be a bold and messy process of trial and error, rather than depicting the usual shuffle through the awkward years, as many coming-of-age comedies are wont to do. The result is a loud but earnest adaptation of Caitlin Moran’s semi-autobiographical novel that maintains its perky, child-like gloss even when the subject matter gets adult.
Beanie Feldstein is the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Johanna Morrigan from Wolverhampton (Feldstein dons a decent accent) in the 90s. She quickly learns that the nice girl gets stuck being pushed around whereas the woman with an acerbic wit and a give-a-damn attitude goes far. In doing so, Johanna’s life is catapulted from that of an inexperienced student from the Midlands to a rock critic for D&ME. Getting out of dodge comes with sacrifices, and Johanna must learn by sacrificing all the wrong things.
Director Coky Giedroyc sets the scattered tone with cutesy details. Johanna’s childhood bedroom is decked out with pictures of her heroes, who range from Jo March (Sharon Horgan) to Dr Freud (Michael Sheen). As figments of her imagination, they give her words of encouragement. The childhood fantasies die out and Dolly Wilde (Johanna’s insult-spewing rock critic alter ego) emerges in their wake. When she sells out as a hack, the cutouts no longer spew words of encouragement and are replaced by the routine of writing among half-drunk champagne glasses in hotel rooms. Perhaps it’s all to say that what we consume has a profound impact on how we feel.
The film teeters on the edge of drama, with lingering themes of family, class, workplace harassment, and self-harm circulating. Yet, when the subject matter gets tough, Giedroyc avoids the searing emotional core and opts to deliver a watery version of events. Luckily, Feldstein’s star power does the work to keep the plot ploughing towards self-discovery. Ultimately, How to Build a Girl does lift the spirits and, as advertised, teaches its audience a well-meaning lesson: in order to build a girl you must try, then fail, then repeat, again and again and again.
How to Build a Girl is released digitally on Amazon Prime Video on 24th July 2020.
Watch the trailer for How to Build a Girl here: