It’s like if “Lady Bird” met “Almost Famous”
Beanie Feldstein, the younger sister of Jonah Hill, earned my respect after seeing her memorable and distinguished performances in Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird” and Olivia Wilde’s “Booksmart.” Now, she has another role in “How to Build a Girl,” in which she plays a British teenager, who plans to become a writer.
This young actress is expanding her horizons by not only using an English accent, but also for playing smart women in her comedies. “How to Build a Girl” isn’t as profound as those two movies, because of its dry cynicism, but it does have its heart in the right place in its attempt to splice “Lady Bird” with “Almost Famous.”
Her name is Johanna Morrigan. She’s 16-years-old, she comes from a working-class family (with Paddy Considine as her supportive, would-be rock star father, Sarah Solemani as her depressed mum, and Laurie Kynaston as her cynical brother), and she often talks to pictures of fictional and real-life characters on her walls. For instance, you get Michael Sheen as Siegmund Freud, Lucy Punch as Sylvia Plath, Sharon Horgan as Jo March (the “Little Women” girl), Gemma Arterton as Maria von Trapp (“The Sound of Music”), and Lily Allen as Elizabeth Taylor.
She earns a position as a music journalist. So, she dyes her hair red and changes her name to Dolly Wilde. Then, she goes to Dublin, Ireland to interview the famous singer John Kite (Alfie Allen), whose sad music is based on his own life experiences. And when her article lands her some criticism, she acknowledges that she needs to step up her attitude. Why? Because nice girls get nowhere. At least what this story conveys.
“How to Build a Girl,” directed by Coky Giedroyc and written by Caitlin Moran (adapting her own novel),” isn’t mean-spirited when we see Johanna or Dolly change her personality. In fact, it’s given a sweet tone and passion, thanks to Feldstein’s fine performance and her character’s faith and strong will. In addition to the casting, Considine adds a nice touch as her father, Allen does some solid work as John Kite, and cameos from Chris O’Dowd and Emma Thompson aren’t forced or labored.
It is dry in some sections of the movies, mostly during the partying or concerts, and it is cynical in her family life. They just weren’t as exhilarating as the leading lady or her ambitions, so, “How to Build a Girl” is not as profound as “Almost Famous.”
But apart from them, the movie is considerate, open-minded, funny, and sweet. It gives the main heroine her brains and independence, and even in her downsides, we believe in her. And when she’s insulted, she’s able to use her words to stand up for herself and her family without any violence.
And given the fact that this story is set in the United Kingdom (England and Ireland), I was reminded of an Irish film called “Sing Street” from 2016, which was directed by John Carney. Both these films love music and people, and I’m happy to have seen them.
Available on Amazon Prime, Google Play, and AppleTV