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Preview: How to Build a Girl

Written by Culture, Film

After Caitlin Moran’s novel was published back in 2014 to critical acclaim, we’re finally getting a film adaptation. Beanie Feldstein (Booksmart) is taking the lead as Joanna Morrigan, an aspiring teenage journalist growing up on a council estate in Wolverhampton in the 1990s.

And with the news announced only a few days ago that rather than having a cinematic release, the movie would be joining the ever-growing list of films to have their premiere on streaming platforms – I’m finally getting round to watching the trailer and seeing just how good the instructions are on How to Build a Girl. Is it Ikea levels of confusion we’re all going to get lost in, or a manual as detailed as the Millennium falcon?

It’s about the dangers of self-improvement; pushing yourself too far and becoming someone you’re not

Okay, as I’ve always (tried) to advocate; let’s talk about the book first. Whilst it is (and does advertise itself to be) a coming-of-age story it isn’t really ‘appropriate’ for the younger audiences. And, y’know, the film is R-rated, so that should give you a clue. To paraphrase that cliche, it’s sex, drugs, Britpop and rock’n’roll. But it’s also about the dangers of self-improvement; pushing yourself too far and becoming someone you’re not, or never wanted to be in the first place; “the thing about crossing over to the dark side” says Morrigan/Feldstein, “is that once you’re there, it doesn’t feel dark at all”.

How to Build a Girl poster
Image Credit: IMDB

What the trailer really focuses on then, is the physical transformation of Joanna. The hair-dye, the hats, the costumes (her brother refers to one of her more, *ahem* interesting outfits as looking like “the child-catcher” from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang). These are all, obviously, incredibly important to the story. But what the trailer doesn’t give away is the internal transformation – the stuff that the plot of the novel really focuses on. Not that I think unwitting audience members will go into the film expecting a feature length makeover episode – but Joanna’s internal re-building is more important than her external one. However, Caitlin Moran did adapt the screenplay herself, so whilst this might’ve been lost in the trailer, I can’t see it being lost in the overall film.

Anyway, moral dilemmas aside – the film is directed by Coky Giedroyc, a new name for me, and a scroll through her IMDb page reveals her work with a few recognisable actors. She directed two episodes of The Hour starring Ben Whishaw, three episodes of The Spies of Warsaw starring David Tennant and is set to direct something called Mary Shelley’s Monster, apparently seeing Shelley “strike a bargain with her alter ego as she works on her seminal novel.” It’s the first I’ve heard of it, but fingers crossed the release of How to Build a Girl goes to plan for Giedroyc and Mary Shelley’s Monster doesn’t become another film lost to coronavirus.

Beanie Feldstein, however, looks like she was made for this role. Although it feels quite similar to her more secondary characters in Lady Bird (2017) and Booksmart (2019), I’m glad she’s taking the lead on this one… the titular role for those of us who have seen Lady Bird more times than they can count (myself included). This feels like her film and her story – we’re just along for the ride and I, for one, can’t wait.

How to Build a Girl is released in the UK on the 3rd July on Amazon Prime.

Last modified: 25th June 2020

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