How To Build A Girl – Review

Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 44 minutes, Director – Coky Giedroyc

Aspiring teenage writer Johanna (Beanie Feldstein) finds herself being a rock critic for a national magazine, however is it helping her discover more of her own personality or a harsh alter-ego?

Johanna Morrigan (Beanie Feldstein) sits at her desk unsure what to write. Hunched over her brother’s pale typewriter struggling for ideas. She knows that she wants to write, but she’s unsure as to what, and her poetry certainly isn’t taking her anywhere. That’s all until she sees an advert looking for a rock critic for a national magazine. While her application is a review of the soundtrack to Annie – perhaps the opposite of rock and roll – she quickly finds herself with the job, and a growing personality away from her Wolverhampton council estate family and background. Soon it becomes more of an escape for her. Writing is no longer “putting a wish in a bottle” to provide hope of bringing money in to her home, it acts as fuel for her growing and potentially damaging alter-ego, Dolly Wilde.

Screenwriter Caitlin Moran adapts her somewhat autobiographical 2014 novel of the same name for the screen, with Beanie Feldstein wonderfully bringing to life the fictionalised 16 year old protagonist, still discovering herself and the world around her. An exciting world of freedom and possibility. During such moments when Johanna gazes at everything around her in awe and wonder the feeling of the film shifts into something close to fantasy. This is her ideal world, even when surrounded by businessmen that tower over her in spotless suits in a cramped lift, and nothing is going to stop her from exploring it. There’s an air of immense joy also captured in Feldstein’s performance during such moments that make them even more fantastical and act as a further escape for her character from the outside world. As she passionately types up her rave reviews of gigs that almost seem to be more like immensely energectic out-of-body-experiences everything else drifts away as a smile spreads across her face and nothing can stop her from fixedly punching away at the typewriter keys relaying her enthusiastic praise. However, such moments, while frequent, do find themselves broken quickly by reality. For instance a moment of uncomfortable harassment from one of the head-writers of the magazine, who commissions her work.

However, much like the moments of near fantasy, the bursts of seriousness are brief, and in this case somewhat few. There is a sense that a number of issues are strayed away from for a large proportion of the run-time; some with nothing more than a brief one line mention, leading to a feeling that seriousness isn’t as present as it perhaps could or should be amongst the elements of comedy and fantasy. While Johanna’s transformation from herself into her advanced pseudonym of Dolly Wilde begins to take a turn as her once passionate reviews turn into heinous hatchet jobs – all for the sake of further publication, and allegedly giving the readers (or rather the editors) what they want – does add some hints of drama a fair deal of comedy also comes from it. One particular sequence where she lies on her bed, talking to her brother in the other room, describing her various sexual exploits and self-taught lessons provides a couple of laughs, while also shows her developing and discovering the world around her, and herself. Building the girl that she is.

There is something interesting about the rapidly overtaking alter-ego as Johanna goes to more and more gigs, immediately connecting to a new passion as she abandons all cares and simply joins everyone in front of the stage leaping and raving to the sound of loud pulsating music in whatever dark, dimly lit venue she may be in. Or at least this is the case until she begins to walk in early before the gig actually starts, scribbling away scathing insults that could possibly ruin the band on stage, alongside her reputation. Yet, the most interesting and engaging content does remain the elements of comedy that land and the always enjoyable real world fantasies, mostly down to Beanie Feldstein’s engaging and ecstatic central performance.

Beanie Feldstein shines in this tale of a passionate writer and her damaging pseudonym. While the seriousness doesn’t always have time to shine and certain issues and elements could be dwelled upon a bit more the humour and joyful fantasies that Giedroyc and Moran help Johanna and the viewer escape into help pull the film along.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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