Review: How to Build a Girl

Written by Film

I have to be honest with you, when I saw the name of the film pop up in my Prime recommendation, I thought it might be another Ex Machina (2014); flesh suit falling off to reveal the machinery inside. It’s a brilliant film, don’t get me wrong, but it did leave me with some nihilistic introspection.

Beanie Feldstein’s appearance on the screen as Johanna was quite different though. A 16-year old girl lost in the daydreams inspired by the cultural conditioning of boyfriends and cool-club popularity. The film – directed by Coky Giedroyć – is chaotic and messy, but also surprising and charming in its perfectly imperfect world.

Set in the Wolverhampton of 1993, Johanna Morrigan narrates her life story of being labelled a nerd, bullying, loneliness and her troubled eccentric family, who are barely getting by. The film appears to be a memoir Johanna has written, extending beyond 300-pages filled with the “memoir-ies” as her English teacher Mrs Belling points out.

The film boldly portrays every possible trouble that Morrigan comes across

It follows the ups and downs of her life as a music-critic called Dolly Wilde, who starts by writing poetic reviews, but becomes crueller, spitting artists out like chewing gum. Fame, money, drinks and sex begin to fill up the life of Dolly, who is so busy hiding the high that she forgets that the cup could spill anytime. Rest of the film follows questions like…what happens when the cup actually does spill? How to gather the spilt ink? Especially the one which is full of regrets.

It is so easy to go wrong and cliché with teen-stories filled with explicit adventures a teenager succumbs to. But Giedroyć does it responsibly as he provides Morrigan’s character with an exemplary character arc. The film boldly portrays every possible trouble that Morrigan comes across; from predatory and illegal sexual relations in the workspace to a period pad which falls out in front of her peers. It also depicts the physical harm teenagers succumb to during disturbed mental and emotional periods.

The film is Feldstein’s best work yet, who makes you hate, love, loathe and support her

But it also portrays genuinely sincere people with good intentions, thereby realistically representing the polarity that exists in our world. The direction takes away the heaviness of the included topics and instead approaches it from a place of eternal optimism and sincere growth in personality.

The film has lined up a magnificent cast as well which, combined with the solid screenplay and substantial dialogue-writing, hits deep in certain moments. Alfie Allen, Paddy Considine and Laurie Kynaston really stand out as the supportive cast, who put forward their most wholesome parts for Beanie Feldstein’s character, Johanna. The film is Feldstein’s best work yet, who makes you hate, love, loathe and support her. She provides an excellent range all packed in one single character; from joy, hope, love, and friendship to the sad, ugly and spiteful.

However, by casting actors in their late 20s to portray teenagers, the film fails in depicting accuracy in both representation and reality, thereby perpetuating one of the biggest pitfalls in popular media.

Rating: 3/5

Featured Image: YouTube

Last modified: 5th August 2020

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