Loosely based on beloved author Caitlin Moran’s semi-autobiographical novel of the same name, Coky Giedroyc’s rollicking “How to Build a Girl” is an amusing enough entry into the canon of coming-of-age teen comedies, but one made even better with another winning performance by star Beanie Feldstein. The “Booksmart” and “Lady Bird” charmer has already left her mark on the genre, and Giedroyc’s feature only allows her to continue that tradition.
Set in mid-’90s Britain, the film follows Feldstein as Johanna (a Moran stand-in), a geeky nobody desperate to make her mark on the world. After a (hilarious and also terribly cringe-y) appearance on a local television show fails to launch Johanna’s latent dreams of being a writer, she opts to pivot to something new: wild rock critic. Reinventing herself as the showy “Dolly Wilde” eventually leads to unexpected success and Johanna’s admittance to a world of hip London types, the sort she never thought possible.
But that’s hardly the whole story. While Johanna finds success, she also loses herself along the way (read: she becomes a real jerk), and Giedroyc’s film tracks what happens after someone gets everything they want, but only after becoming someone they never really wanted to be. Bolstered by tons of great music, a disarming turn from “Game of Thrones” star Alfie Allen (playing a sensitive singer who captures Johanna’s heart), and a gentle approach to what it really means to grow up, “How to Build a Girl” delights.
When the film premiered at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, this writer noted in IndieWire’s review that, while it did offer some expected beats, it’s got plenty of original spirit: “How do you build a girl? Giedroyc’s film offers one answer: with a lot of pain. Johanna may be forced to cycle through the necessary plot points to grow into something new, but the film lets her get ugly and mean and messy on the way there, with Feldstein still winning enough to ensure we’re rooting for her. The adventure starts with her, and she carries it through to somewhere unexpectedly delightful, if not necessary: the shining promise of womanhood, on her terms.”
IFC Films will release the film on VOD on Friday, May 8. Check out the latest trailer for “How to Build a Girl” below.