How to Build a Girl is based on the novel of the same name. It's about Johanna Morrigan who wants so desperately to get out of her current status in life. She's a very good writer and decides to enter a magazine submission contest. Despite her submission not being about a rock group her tenacity and talent get her in. Johanna enters the world of rock 'n roll at full tilt and lets the fame go to her head so much she has to look at who she's become and decide if that's who she really wants to be. It stars Beanie Feldstein, Paddy Considine, Laurie Kynaston, Sarah Solemani, Chris O'Dowd, Joanna Scanlon, Arinze Kenny, Ziggy Heath, Tadhg Murphy, Bobby Schofield, Frank Dillane, Hammad Animashaun, Alfie Allen, and Emma Thompson. "God Wall" Cameos: Andi Oliver, Sue Perkins, Mel Giedroyc, Alexei Sayle, Lily Allen, Gemma Arteron, Jameela Jamil, Lucy Punch, Sharon Horgan, Patsy Ferran, and Michael Sheen. It is directed by Coky Giedroyc and written by Caitlin Moran. The film is inexpensively for rent ($5.99) on most pay streaming platforms (Apple, Amazon, Fandango, etc.)
I'd like to get out any negative thoughts out up top. The main plot has been done many times before. Most of How to Build a Girl's story beats aren't new and are often tiresome and predictable. Now, those negative thoughts are in service of the fact that this story isn't meant for me to glean new meaning, though I did, or to be inspired by as I'm not the target audience. Though, I am reinforced my belief that good criticism shouldn't be a series of ad hominem attacks on the individuals who make up a movie, or in the case of How to Build a Girl, the band who makes music.
What sells this movie for me is the fantasy element. As a person who's often away in the clouds, I love a character with an overactive fantasy life. From Johanna's "God Wall" of influences we get a broader sense of her loneliness and need for positive reinforcement. Her incredible parade of young men who are interested in her is funny and delightful and her masturbation fantasy that has no sex, but a man singing a song about her and a crowd adoring her is spot on. I even like when she talks it out with a poster in the ladies room, but the best of all is when she has an evening walk with John.
I love all the scenes with John Kite even the painful ones. The sequences with him are a dream in themselves. I love how easy he and Johanna are with each other even with Johanna's obvious nervousness around him. He's more humane and understanding of Johanna than even her coworkers because they see her as nothing but competition or her classmates who are too insecure in themselves to want to be paired with someone so confident in who they want to be.
That confidence comes across in Johanna's transformation into her persona Dolly Wilde. She dies her hair bright red and puts together a costume that had to be inspired by Columbia of The Rocky Horror Picture Show with her top hats, dress shirts, belts, ties, fishnet stockings and heavy boots. It's an incredible ensemble and a true testament to the artistry of costume designer Stephanie Collie. The hair, and all of the fabulous '90s hair and makeup, is top notch thanks to Bea Millas and her team of stylists. This is a film that lives in this period and its details are spectacular.
It's hard for me not to use spectacular again, but I have to when I describe Alfie Allen's performance as John Kite. I admit I've only seen a limited number of his projects and I've enjoyed what he brings to the table, but I couldn't take my eyes off him in How to Build a Girl as it feels so different to how I've perceived him. As soon as I saw him on screen I got nervous, not having read the book, I thought this interview could go very badly for Johanna, but once he breaks out that smile and opens up, I was charmed. He's pitch perfect as the musician everyone thinks is too brooding, but is really full of life. Allen makes it a perfectly comfortable and lived in performance.
I love supportive parents and a good weepy mom encouragement speech. How to Build a Girl isn't a perfect movie and it is easy to dismiss it with other teen coming of age films, but it's like that weepy mom speech at the end, it's a comfort to watch someone grow, learn and rebuild themselves into someone better than they were. I really liked How to Build a Girl and I think if you have the means, you should seek it out and open up to a goofy, rocking fantasia.