How To Build A Girl (2020)

How to Build a Girl poster.jpeg
Director: Coky Giedroyc
Running Time: 104 Minutes
Certification: 15
Starring: Beanie Feldstein, Alfie Allen, Paddy Considine, Sarah Solemani, Laurie Kynaston, Joanna Scanlan, Arinzé Kene, Frank Dillane, Chris O'Dowd, Emma Thompson

Set in the 1990s, 16 year old Johanna (Beanie Feldstein) lives on a council estate in Wolverhampton. Dreaming of escaping her life to become a writer, she gets a job as a rock critic for a London paper, reinventing herself under the persona of "Dolly Wilde". However, after a glowing feature paints her as a love-struck fangirl, she follows the path of delivering scathing reviews, believing it's the path to success.  

Writing the screenplay, celebrated journalist Caitlin Moran adapts her own novel of the same name, which itself is semi-autobiographical. In the directors chair is Coky Giedroyc, and there's merit in what she does. Take the moment when Johanna discovers rock music, as a Manic Street Preachers concert in Birmingham. We buy her falling under the music's spell, and understanding what it means to her, as it's joyously captured on the screen. It's such a wonderfully conveyed moment, and one wishes such power was throughout the rest of this feature.

When it comes to the lead character, Johanna is portrayed as an introvert who longs for more. Shy and withdrawn, she can only express herself with the pictures of literary icons on her wall. It's clear what the film is trying to convey with this, but it feels ripped from a novel entitled "Indie film quirks which are easy to use". As she aims to get ahead, and constantly dishes out barbed insults, the film settles into a more traditional structure. It also becomes difficult to root for her, as embracing her hated persona sees her making detestable actions, which feel difficult to forgive later on.

It's worth mentioning that Beanie Feldstein is an utter treasure, once more showcasing how much of a talented actor she is. Whether she's portraying the timid schoolgirl, hoping for some excitement in her uneventful life, or the outspoken critic who relishes in her venomous take-downs, there's terrific work to behold. She's especially wonderful when paired with Paddy Considine, on reliable form as ever. Lending able support is Alfie Allen, who's very likeable in the down to earth role, as the musician our lead becomes smitten with.

Despite the wonderful talent within, one wishes they weren't disappearing so often. After a certain point, one of the key parts of Paddy Considine's character is just dropped, never to be even hinted at again. It feels as though key moments are rushed through, like Johanna rising through her job, and how it impacts her family. Despite their best intentions, the humorous moments often fall flat, which just helps the 102 minute runtime seem to drag on.

For what it's worth, the film has been imbued with a necessary message about discovering the best version of yourself and persevering onward, no matter how many mistakes it takes to get there. One wishes the filmmakers had followed this advice, as another crack at the screenplay could've made the best version of this story.

How To Build A Girl is available to stream on Amazon Prime