MOVIE: HOW TO BUILD A GIRL
STARRING: BEANIE FELDSTEIN; ALFIE ALLEN; PADDY CONSIDINE; SARAH SOLEMANI
DIRECTED BY: COKY GIEDROYC
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 2 STARS (Out of 4)
There are things in How to Build a Girl that will make you smile and there are also things that will drive you insane. It’s another coming of age picture, a sub-genre that typically reserves itself for the Sundance film festival, and rarely feels as organic as a movie such as Lady Bird did. Based off the best-selling book by Caitlin Moran, we set our focus on Johanna Morrigan (Beanie Feldstein), an intellectual, daydreaming 16-year old, that has big hopes of becoming a writer of her own. Problem is, she’s not the picture perfect girl, the popular one, and her family is quite poor. As these types of stories go, Johanna finds an opportunity to write for a music magazine, and cue the transformation from geek to rocking hipster. It’s all balled up into an often cute, irritating, and predictable movie. How to Build a Girl has all the right parts, it’s just missing the instructions on how to put it together.
The plot is a predictable path. Johanna lives with her family in Wolverhampton, England. Her father Pat (Paddy Considine) is an aloof musician, selling border collie puppies on the side, while her mother Angie (Sarah Solemani) is saddled with taking care of twin infants. This leaves Johanna and her brother Krissi (Laurie Kynaston) to struggle with their teenage years, with Johanna often escaping into the pictures on her wall of famous people such as Freud and Sylvia Plath. What is evident is that Johanna has a talent for writing. She wins a poetry contest to be on TV, with hilariously embarrassing results, and takes the risk by applying for a job at a music magazine. Her popularity in her writing leads to a change of character, dying her hair raspberry red, wearing an outfit that’s more circus leader than 90’s rock, and takes pride in trashing bands in her articles. She’s no longer Johanna, she is now Dolly Wilde.
I’ve meandered back and forth on if this is a 2 ½ star movie or 2. For me, the problems outweigh the positives when it comes to How to Build a Girl, and something about it feels incredibly generic. It starts with the lead Beanie Feldstein, who came to the scene in Neighbors 2 and burst through the doors in Booksmart, last years hit comedy from Olivia Wilde. Her performance here is good, it carries the entire picture, but she’s also wrong for the part. Feldstein isn’t British, which leaves her saddled with doing an accent for the entire movie, and she more or less pulls it off, but since we know it’s an accent it comes off as distracting. Feldstein is also too old for the role. She’s 27 playing a 16 year-old and we can tell. She looks older than her classmates, she looks old enough to drink, party, and sleep around, but all of that is supposed to be a “surprise” when she does it. Instead, things feel out of place. Her change in confidence is welcome and she develops a love interest with emo-rocker John Kite (Alfie Allen), but nothing about How to Build a Girl is natural. It is molded, fabricated, and it’s the job of a movie to make us not see that.
The direction from Coky Giedroyc is fine, nothing special with style or composition. Her MO seems to be to let Feldstein go to work. The comparison is easily to Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous meets Bridget Jone’s Dairy, while the writing by Moran is clearly written with the teenage voice in mind, something that this movie struggles with. Is it about a teenager? Is it about becoming your true self? Even if it is about all of those things, How to Build a Girl does not know how to pull it off. This isn’t an awful movie by any stretch, but it will leave you disappointed. How to Build a Girl should be remade into a TV series, or next time, find a way to get all the parts right.
Written by: Leo Brady