Coming of age movies are crucial to cinema. From across the globe, and for centuries, there have been stories about our teenage struggles in this adult world.
Now we are heading to the Midlands for How to Build a Girl.
Based on fictionalised memories of Caitlin Moran, and directed by Coky Giedroyc, How to Build a Girl revolves around young, wannabe writer Johanna Morrigan. Stuck in Wolverhampton during the nineties, Johanna is struggling to make her dreams of fame, fortune, and epic romance a reality. With the help of her brother Krissi. Johanna applies for a job to be a music critic at music magazine B&ME and reinvents herself to be the nefarious Dolly Wilde. Miraculously she gets it but learns a heavy price of rock and fall, garnering a notorious reputation within the music industry. Will she forget the idealistic girl that she used to be?
Leading the film, all whilst producing a somewhat successful Midlands accent, is American rising star Beanie Feldstein. The young actor who has come to our attention in comedy films such as Lady Bird and Book Smart takes the lead her. Feldstein has enough charm and talent to keep the film going, effectively going through this perilous journey of self-discovery. Tackling a male-dominated industry, Johanna has to strife to get her voice heard, even if she loses herself in the process. It is a hard role and the script doesn’t quiet convey the cutting voice of the novel. Nevertheless, Feldstein is amiable and watchable. Especially when she is paired with Alfie Allen’s suave Irish indie singer John Kite. Together, they have enough chemistry to showcase a believable budding romance, even though there is a wild age difference.
The biggest problem with How to Build a Girl is that the character of Johanna is annoying from the beginning. The aim is to have her more of a biting character with this tempestuous personality. However, this makes it difficult to empathise with her from the start because instead of delightfully droll, she comes across quite unruly and bratty. That’s not to say you cannot have an unlikable female character at the centre of the movie. It’s just that here, you are supposed to follow her on a journey where she loses herself in the glitz and the glam, becomes a horrible person through the process, eventually realises her crimes, and turns it all around. Though there are snippets of a good nature underneath the red-headed bravado, it is hard to root for someone you cannot connect with, even with Feldstein’s natural likability.
There seems to be better stories within this world such as Allen’s John Kite or even newcomer Lauri Kynaston’s Krissi, who both have their own demons to face. As you whip through Johanna’s alcohol-addled fame, you can’t help but yearn for these deeper tales. This is also apparent with Johanna. The movie seemingly glides over the depth of her own issues as a 16 year old propelled into this almost hedonistic lifestyle as she competes with the men around her and tries to find her place. It has similar facets to The Diary of a Teenage Girl, a younger woman thrust into adulthood too quickly, but How to Build a Girl relies too much on dark humour which doesn’t quite work here. Especially when it revolves around sex, self-harm, and suicide.
However, How to Build a Girl has its appeals and feels as wistful as Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging. There are moments where you cannot help but smile, especially in scenes between Allen and Feldstein. There is also a brilliant 90s soundtrack that evokes a blissful nostalgia for the era. At best, it is quirky and nice. No more. No less. Sometimes that is all you need.
How to Build a Girl is available on Amazon Prime Video