Toronto 2019: How to Build a Girl

Beanie Feldstein in How to Build a Girl. Courtesy of TIFF.

Booksmart‘s Beanie Feldstein delivers another strong leading performance as teenager who becomes a rock music critic in How to Build a Girl.

The film isn’t the typical coming-of-age comedy.  Not many people come of age while seeking to reinvent themselves as a rock critic.  This is what happens for Johanna Morrigan (Beanie Feldstein).  Once a bullied high school teenager, Morrigan transforms herself into rock critic Dolly Wilde after taking a job with D&ME.  The opportunity comes about because Johanna refuses to give up.  All this Wolverhampton teenager wants to do with her life is to become successful.  Along the way, the lines begin to blur.  Who is Johanna Morrigan and who is Dolly Wilde?  After a while, they may as well be one and the same.  Unfortunately, this starts to take a toll on her family.

Johanna lives at home with her parents, Pat (Paddy Considine) and Angie (Sarah Solemani).  She doesn’t quite share a room with her brother, Krissi (Laurie Kynaston) but there’s a Berlin Wall-esque wall dividing their room.  Funny enough, Krissi is the one who suggested becoming a rock critic in the first place.  Meanwhile, a big part of the plot deals with a feature story on John Kite (Alfie Allen).

It’s kind of funny to watch everything play out as it does.  At the same time, you can’t help but feel for her family.  They have to watch her make this transition under their own eyes.  Her own father was a musician back in the day.  It wouldn’t be unfair to think that he could piggyback off of Johanna’s success.  And yet, almost as soon as she plays his music for her co-workers at the magazine, she’s forced to shoot it out of the sky.  Ah, life in the early 1990s when physical media was the only option available.

There are some great moments of humor in the film.  Some of this comes from the wall of heroes hanging on Johanna’s wall.  They aren’t just regular photos or posters as they talk to Johanna.  Regardless of the humor at hand, there are also some emotional moments to be found especially when Johanna realizes that she screwed up.

A west coast Jewish girl is probably the last person anyone could have expected to take on the role of Johanna Morrigan.  Yet here we are admiring another crushing performance this year from Beanie Feldstein.  For a film that is set in the UK let alone the 1990s, Beanie Feldstein is absolutely amazing in her performance.

How to Build a Girl certainly builds a girl even if it takes her a bit longer than needed.

DIRECTOR:  Coky Giedroyć
SCREENWRITER:  Caitlin Moran
CAST:  Beanie Feldstein, Paddy Considine, Sarah Solemani, Alfie Allen, with Chris O’Dowd and Emma Thompson

How to Build a Girl held its world premiere during the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival in the Special Presentations program. Grade: 4/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.