Coky Giedroye’s HOW TO BUILD A GIRL is a modern take on the coming of age film. With a strong cast and impressive cameos, the film had the potential to be a new cult classic, however, due to some odd choices, rushed plot points, and an over-theatrical lead performance, the film falls a little flat.
Beanie Feldstein plays the lead role of Johanna Morrigan, a 16-year-old ‘geek’ who reinvents herself and becomes a music critic for a cool magazine in London to save her family from their poverty-stricken lives. Feldstein’s ability to perform in a Wolverhampton accent is impressive, but her concentration on the accent often lets her acting ability fall short. Her performance comes across as over-the-top and almost a caricature rather than a realistic young woman. The over-theatrical performance is highlighted in dailogue scenes. Interactions with her brother, Krissie (Laurie Kynaston), feel odd as he is very natural and subdued in his performance which often clashes with Feldstein’s loud and brash expressions. Her choices for her character mean she would approach conversations as more of a speech which feel unnatural, particularly in comparison with Kynaston who chooses to speak in a more natural, conversational tone. Due to the caricature performance of Feldstein, her character arc does not come full circle and her redemption – after insulting her family and rebelling – is ineffective. The viewer is pulled out of the film too often to connect with Johanna on an emotional level. She is not unlikeable, but she does not connect with the viewer to the level needed for this redemption to be successful. Feldstein is a talented actor, but this particular role appeared to be a struggle for her.
The film includes some odd choices which do not help curb the caricature of Johanna Morrigan. There are many moments where the 16-year-old Johanna is over-sexualised. The costume choices of corsets and fishnets could have been dismissed as a young girl trying to find her look. However, coupling this with graphic comedic sex scenes does create an uncomfortable element. The scenes are meant to be funny, which they can be, but there has to be a question of appropriateness when showing them, with Johanna described in the film as ‘jailbait’. Another odd choice in the film is the decision to rush over some key elements, most obviously in the last few scenes where Johanna stands up to the writers at her magazine and goes home to her family. She hasn’t apologised to her family yet so they are still upset with her and she feels alone. The scenes addressing how she reacts to this happen in such quick succession that they leave the viewer feeling confused and slightly bewildered. The film should have taken a bit more time with this, to show more of her mental health so that this vital moment didn’t rip the viewer out of the story.
HOW TO BUILD A GIRL is not a bad film, but it does make some choices that take away from its impressive elements. The cast are superb for the most part in an enjoyable film. Beanie Feldstein has excellent moments in the film, but her focus on the accent distracts her ability to produce a believable character. The choice to rush over some moments in the film took away some emotional moments and missed out some key characterisation which would have helped keep the viewer engrossed. An interesting film, but one that needed a little bit more time and care for its characters and their stories.