HOW TO BUILD A GIRL (Blu-ray Review)
From IFC FILMS
Review by Stinky the Destroyer😽
Assembled with simple-to-follow instructions, How to Build a Girl is another film in which an awkward, outcast teenager learns to be popular by becoming someone that goes against her very nature. Though semi-autobiographical (written by Caitlin Moran, based on her novel), it’s a familiar story with a few engaging flourishes to off-set the overall feeling of Deja Vu.
Taking place in the 1990s, 16-year-old Johanna Morrigan (Beanie Feldstein) is a gifted writer, but a social pariah who’s subjected to constant humiliation at school (occasionally of her own doing). Her home life ain’t roses either. Dad (Paddy Considine) is unemployed, self-absorbed and still convinced he’s gonna be a rockstar, while beleaguered Mom (Sarah Solemani) has pretty-much given up all hope of ever being happy (especially with the arrival of twins). Only her brother, Krissi (Laurie Kynaston), seems to empathize with her. As for friends...they occupy her wall, photos and clippings of various literary legends and dead pop icons who speak to her when she’s alone (and are the funniest part of the film).
After landing an entry--level job writing for a popular music magazine, Johanna is assigned to interview local musician John Kite (Alfie Allen). Kindred spirits, they connect emotionally, but her gushing article is rejected by her editors, all of whom are smug hipsters who prefer to tear-down any artists deemed uncool (which essentially means everybody, something I’ve always suspected about most music magazines). So Johanna reinvents herself as Dolly Wilde, going as far as to dress the part. Her intentionally vicious & cruel reviews earn her a huge following and, for the first time, a lot of money, both of which Dad hopes will jump-start his own failed music career. But by burying herself in the role - partying like a rock star and earning an “Arsehole of the Year” award - she alienates everyone close to her, especially Kite, the subject of a new Dolly Wilde article, this-time filled with personal stories he once told her in confidence.
Amusing without ever being uproariously funny, How to Build a Girl is predictable to a fault but benefits from good performances, Feldstein, in particular. The Morrigan family dynamic is pretty interesting, too. We suspect Dad is already aware his opportunity for stardom has passed and we sense a subtle bit of sadness in his attempt to piggyback on her fame. While Mom is a caricature throughout most of the story, she becomes a loving parent at the time Johanna needs her most. But I have to say I was pretty uncomfortable watching Dolly’s descent into booze and debauchery. Remember, we’re talking about a 16 year old having sex with anything that moves. Not only does she discuss it in blunt terms, the film chooses to show it in an ugly montage that’s played for laughs, but left a bad taste in my mouth.
"That's Mrs. Wonka to you."
You’ll see the end coming from a mile away, of course, so elaborating further is pointless. Still, the film does a decent job putting a very ‘90s - and very British - spin on the tried-and-true coming-of-age film. Being that it's a formula that still works in the right hands, more often than not, Moran & director Coky Giedroyc confidently follow all the instructions to guide the audience down a familiar path.
FEATURETTES - “Building a Girl”; “My Life in Wolverhampton”; “The God Wall”
INTERVIEWS - Individuals interviews with Beanie Feldstein, Alfie Allen and writer Caitlin Moran.