‘How To Build A Girl’ Movie Review: Development Arrested In Coky Giedroyc’s New Film
How to Build a Girl will not be a fun movie to speak poorly of. Some movies hit the theaters (laptops?) full of ill-considered elements and vapid stylings that make them easy to pile criticism on. Coky Giedroyc‘s first film in two decades, however, is not one of those films.
Based on the popular novel of the same name by journalist Caitlin Moran, How to Build a Girl follows Johanna Morrigan (played by Lady Bird and Booksmart star Beanie Feldstein), a 16 year-old growing up on a council estate in the British Midlands with dreams of being a writer. Through a series of mildly contrived coincidences, Johanna becomes a rock critic for a chic London magazine. Hijinks and coming-of-age tropes ensue.
At a perfectly reasonable 102 minutes, the film is still far too long. Johanna’s character is engaging enough, but her journey is so difficult to get on board with that Feldstein’s relatively solid performance is lost in the shuffle. The movie violently fluctuates between being so contrived as to be bland and being so fantastical as to come off as a kind of fantasy. How to Build a Girl is nominally based on Moran’s own adolescence, but the way in which Johanna’s story ticks off so many of the typical boxes of modern films about teenage girls ruins any sense of reality the film might otherwise offer.
Perhaps the most nauseating aspect of the film is John Kite (played a bit too saccharine by Alfie Allen), a soft-rock maestro Johanna is sent to profile — try not to be surprised when she ends up falling in love with him. John’s entire character is insulting: he’s endlessly charming, willing to give up immense amounts of time and effort to make Johanna happy, and never holds Johanna’s massive missteps against her — if a teenage journalist who had previously tried to kiss you published an exposé of your tragic backstory that you shared with her in confidence, would you call her mother and apologize?
The film ends with an unbelievably sincere address to the camera by Johanna (Feldstein?) in which she asks all girls watching the film to take ownership of their own stories, live their lives how they want to, et cetera. Setting aside the fact that this film is R-rated, the film’s offensively hokey suicide scene and massively unhealthy attitude towards sex make you wonder who this movie is supposed to be for. As if laughing at the joke it’s just made, Johanna ends the monologue by running into the arms of Kite, who had previously declared that he will one day fall in love with her and wants to show her the world. Isn’t the girl supposed to be building herself here?
In general, How to Build a Girl has its heart in the right place — learning to be yourself while still following your dreams — but its everything else seems to be in the wrong location. For those looking for a quality woman-focused coming-of-age stories, simply look at other films in Feldstein’s back catalog and leave this one where you found it.