Courtesy of IFC Films
From “Lady Bird” to last summer’s unsung sleeper hit “Booksmart,” – rising star Beanie Feldstein shows no signs of slowing down in the smart and sassy “How to Build A Girl.” The film - based on the wild Caitlin Moran memoir – showcases the evolution of Moran, as a teenager, from a sweet and innocent bookworm into a harsh and frank rock critic.
Feldstein, who’s starting to carve out her own career identity, tackles Johanna Morrigan, (it should be noted that some liberties, like changing the protagonist’s name, have been taken with the source material), at a crossroad in her life. The young writer’s got the wit to and is constantly told by her English teacher her potential for greatness. She’s also got an eye for poetry and despite her award-winning efforts, she feels something is missing from her life.
Opportunity knocks when Johanna, striving to earn some extra cash, sees an ad for a young writer wanted at a London-based rock mag and is encouraged to apply by her hip older brother Krissi (Laurie Kynaston). Of all things, she submits a review of the “Annie” soundtrack and is ecstatic to hear back from the dudes running the magazine, wanting to meet her.
Of course, they invite her out to simply poke fun at her, but her plucky determination hasn’t stopped her before, and eventually the group warms to her. Armed with a local assignment and a new alias, the egomaniacal rock critic Dolly Wilde, Joahana begins firing on all cylinders. Climbing the proverbial food chain, Wilde becomes a household name, the type of byline notorious for trashing artists with headlines like “Bohemian Crapsody.”
It becomes a tedious back and forth between the person Johanna was and how Wilde is changing her writing perspective. She trashes things for the sole reason that it draws attention, an obvious deflection of herself and her own struggles with bullying. Wilde is the boss now and even has advice on the proper positions for sexual intercourse, a fantasy Johanna always wanted to live out (“my sexual experimentation starts now”).
Feldstein – in full Mad Hatter from “Alice in Wonderland” attire – trips over the posh British accent required numerous times, but she still manages to harbor Johanna with a sense of reliability. The actress has certainly found her niche with a genre that rewards her abilities to dig deep enough into her characters’ burning desires and passions. Other folks in the movie seemingly come and go, including her parents (played by Paddy Considine and Sarah Solemani) the latter of which wants to resurrect his failed music career, a subplot that never takes flight.
The film was directed by Coky Giedroyc and features a slew of memorable cameos including Lucy Punch, Gemma Arterton, Michael Sheen, Emma Thompson, and Chris O’Dowd. They don’t so much enhance the overall plot then they do provide a batch of familiar faces. “How To Build a Girl” can seem predictable, but Giedroyc’s take on 90’s culture is a worthwhile venture that feels cut from the same cloth as a John Hughes picture, though, just slightly different enough to stand on its own.
HOW TO BUILD A GIRL is now available from various on-demand platform.