REVIEW: How To Build A Girl (Glasgow Film Festival 2020)
One exuberant half of the barnstorming duo that lit up Olivia Wilde’s impeccable coming-of-age directorial debut ‘Booksmart’. Beanie Feldstein now looks to test her mettle away from sunny Los Angeles. Throwing herself into the unlikely far grittier backdrop of a Wolverhampton council estate (my work city!) and tackling our darling dialect, entrusted to translate the empowering hyperactive qualities of Caitlin Moran’s dearly loved book to the big screen.
Moran has gone on record to say that her modest upbringing resembled The Hunger Games, so it’s undoubtedly fitting that ‘How To Build A Girl’ may just be the crowd-pleasing film that sees Beanie’s career truly catch fire.
A sixteen-year-old whose searing enthusiasm has remained locked within the confines of her bedroom, as she daydreams about cute boys aplenty and waxes lyrical about inspirational literary figures like Little Women’s Jo March. Her Lady Bird co-star Saoirse Ronan would be proud. Johanna (Feldstein) just doesn’t believe her lofty writer ambitions can merely be contained within 1990’s West Midlands.
Looking to fare better than her aspiring rock star dad (Paddy Considine) whose music project ‘Mayonnaise’ is hardly spreading, whilst injecting some fierce femininity into the household as her physically drained mom (Sarah Solemani) looks like she’s thrown the towel in on the prospect of a better life. Her world soon broadens, becoming littered with compromise when she embodies the outlandish acid-tongued persona of music critic Dolly Wilde, for the benefit of proving her worth to the posh boys of London. Blessed with such solid foundations for a blossoming career. Can Johanna maintain a true sense of herself, preventing it from all crashing down on her?
Director Coky Giedroyc certainly has no trouble infusing the film with Moran’s barnstorming zany energy in the transfer. Particularly in its fantastical first half which impressively zips along, with Johanna engaged in conversation with her esteemed pictures on the wall which vividly come to life, only to become embroiled in something far more real away from home. Her infatuation with the ever-so-charming John Kite (Alfie Allen), which at one stage triggers a hefty downpour of flower petals and a love me/love me not scenario.
Perhaps like many a teen, the erratic behaviour of our charming heroine in establishing herself on the page and discovering herself in the bedroom does occasionally leave the second half loose in narrative focus, but the clarity in the message of upholding integrity within your work in a cynical still heavily male-populated environment, where spewing verbal bile garners cheap publicity, whilst truly embracing your starting point in life in order to fully appreciate where you want to end up, never becomes distorted.
Whether it’s the anxious opinions of those early frames, or eventually giving us the larger-than-life one-woman show that aesthetically wouldn’t look out of place in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, underneath the façade and insecurities. Beanie Feldstein is utterly brilliant in grounding Johanna with deep humanity and irresistible charm, whose career trajectory through her musical leap from Annie to Manic Street Preachers is always engaging, offering us a surprisingly decent accent that left this Midlander breathing a huge sigh of relief.
Only elevating the wicked hilarity is Paddy Considine’s father figure whose spiky vernacular and dear love for home is delightfully authentic, with the postnatal depression of Sarah Solemani’s mother in stressing to Johanna to not do inner harm to herself, bringing much sincerity to the piece. I suspect Alfie Allen may be on his way to stealing some hearts too, riffing off Beanie’s lead character wonderfully as he puts in a charismatic turn as John Kite.
In an admittedly overcrowded coming-of-age market, ‘How To Build A Girl’ stands tall. A big-hearted beauty.
Directed by: Coky Giedroyc
Written by: Caitlin Mora, John Niven
Cast: Beanie Feldstein, Emma Thompson, Jameela Jamil, Alfie Allen, Paddy Considine, Lucy Punch, Chris O’Dowd
A teenager living with her working-class family on a council estate in Wolverhampton, England, grows up to become a popular but conflicted music journalist.
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