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  • Gareth Crook

How to Build a Girl (2019)

I’m expecting disappointment. I love Caitlin Moran and I loved the book How To Build a Girl. I like Beanie Feldstein too, granted I’ve only seen her in Lady Bird and Booksmart, but she was great in both. Can she carry the lead though? Especially such a brilliant character like Johanna... with a brummie accent? Well the accent is okay, a bit over the top, but then the whole film is comically overblown. To be fair, it takes that from Moran’s book, but on screen it does feel a bit cringe inducing. Johanna is an aspiring writer. 16 years old, painfully uncool, but oh so enthusiastic. Feldstein is perfect for this, totally uninhibited, fearless. The supporting cast all follow suit, Chris O’Dowd as an awkward 80s local TV presenter, Michael Sheen as a picture of Freud on Johanna’s wall and Paddy Considine as her dad. So there’s the tone, silly teenage dreams... but are they silly. Moran of course is now a critically acclaimed writer and this is essentially her story. The plot really takes off when Johanna interviews for a job at the NME or D&ME for copyright purposes. This is back in the days when the NME was cool and reputable... and full of self righteous men. Her review of the Annie Soundtrack is assumed you be a joke, it’s not. What is proves to be is an unlikely foot in the door for the wannabe writer. Cue a makeover and a new name, Dolly Wilde, off to review The Manics Street Preachers. Imagine knowing sod all about music and be baptised by early Manics banging out ‘You Love Us’, “At 9pm last night rock and roll meant nothing to me, by midnight it was the most important thing in the world”. It’s a lot of fun, big, loud, silly, FUN! For all the wide-eyed fantasies being indulged, it does seem to lack a bit of grit though. This isn’t too detrimental, but it’s focus is so innocent, it makes it hard to take it seriously. Dolly’s enthusiasm for everything gets her only so far, until she indulges her nasty side and starts slating bands. Hate sells, it’s true but uncomfortable. It’s not her though and if there’s any substance in this telling, it’s Dolly’s fight to reclaim her voice and her identity. Unsurprisingly the soundtrack is stellar, full of 90s indie needle drops. Monday’s, Primal Scream, Jeff Buckley, the list is extensive. It’s this nostalgia, the joy of discovering music and escaping into it that I enjoyed. That’s me projecting onto it though and I’m not sure if this were based in a different world, that it’d do much for me. It’s not terrible, but it is disappointing and it doesn’t live up to the book. Feldstein though is rather good.



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