HOW TO BUILD A GIRL
(director: Coky Giedroyc; screenwriter: based on the novel How To Build a Girl by Caitlan Moran/Moran; cinematographer: Hubert Taczanowski; editors: Gary Dollner, Gareth C. Scales; music: Oli Julian; cast: Beanie Feldstein (Johanna Morrigan), Sarah Solemani (Angie), Paddy Considine (Pat), Laurie Kynaston (Kris), Donal Finn (Karl Boden), Alfie Allen (John Kite), Emma Thompson (Herself), Chris O’Dowd (Alan ‘Wilko’ Wilkinson), Joanna Scanlan (Mrs. Belling), Sue Perkins (Emily Bronte), Mel Giedroyc (Charlotte Bronte),Michael Sheen (Dr. Freud), Lily Allen (Elizabeth Taylor), Alexei Sayle (Karl Marx), Gemma Arterton (Maria von Trapp), Jameela Jamil (Cleopatra), Lucy Punch (Sylvia Plath), Sharon Horgan (Jo March), Frank Dillane (Tony Rich), Arinze Kene (Kenny), Tadgh Murphy (Andy Rock), Ziggy Heath (Derby), Bobby Schofield (Pricey), Andi Oliver (Donna Summer)Runtime: 102;MPAA Rating: R; producers: Alison Owen, Debra Hayward; IFC Films; 2019-UK)
“Feldstein carries the movie with a high-energy performance, that’s both pleasing and admirable.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Director Coky Giedroyc (“Women Talk Dirty”/”Oliver Twist”) bases her biopic on the 2014 semi-autobiographical novel of the same name by rock critic and journalist Caitlin Moran. The screenplay is also written by Moran. The setting is England in the 1990s. Though based on a true story, the truth seems to be a causality here. Which is perhaps fitting, since it’s a story about a teen heroine who is willing to do anything to make a name for herself in the field of rock journalism.
The shy but bright 16-year-old Johanna Morrigan (Beanie Feldstein, the kid sister of Jonah Hill, who in the story uses the name Johanna Morrigan instead of Caitlan Moran) lives in a house in Wolverhampton, England, with her large impoverished family. Her dad Pat (Paddy Considine) is an out of work drummer, while her harried mom Angie (Sarah Solemani) is kept on the constant go taking care of her, the four boys and the new set of twins.
Johanna shares a room with her brother Krissi (Laurie Kynaston). On her side of the wall she has pasted photos of her favorite celebrities and fictional heroes. They speak to her, giving her encouragement and advice. If you have a sense of good taste, you gotta wonder about the Sylvia Plath one giving her suicide jokes.
After a bad experience with a rock magazine in London not hiring her because she wears glasses, looks nerdy and is chubby, she goes home and reinvents herself by coloring her hair a flaming red and takes on the zany persona of “Dolly Wilde.” When she tries the ‘zine again, she’s hired and soon at this tender age will become famous for her razor-sharp reporting.
Her first interview is with pop star John Kite (Alfie Allen). Though she writes a lively and upbeat story, her editors don’t appreciate it and mock her for being so teenager impressionable. In her next story she turns nasty, no more Miss Nice Girl, and goes on from there to become a popular rock critic. This gets her invited to all the hipster scenes–such as exclusive sex parties and so on.
Perhaps her most cruel take down is when she says “Eddie Vedder should do another ripoff of Kurt Cobain and just kill himself.”
The many punk sequences of our hard to like heroine ‘didn’t rock my boat,’ but it gets worse (or at least sillier) when it goes onto the subplot of dad kick-starting his rock career. But Feldstein carries the movie with a high-energy performance, that’s both pleasing and admirable. The rock critic acts like a rock star, in this twisty coming-of-age tale where being bad means being good (or something as vague as that).
REVIEWED ON 5/14/2020 GRADE: B-