In 1990s Wolverhampton, 16-year-old Johanna Morrigan (Beanie Feldstein) dreams of being a writer. However, living a council estate with a dad who thinks he’s still a rock star and an exhausted mum trying to bring up three other siblings, she might as well be wishing for the moon. Yet, when the family are plunged into further poverty after Johana inadvertently lets slip that her father illegally breads dogs, she promises to earn the money back. Successfully reinventing herself as “Dolly Wilde”, a rock journalist for D&ME magazine, it seems that she’s finally built herself a decent future away from Wolverhampton – but is she the girl she really wants to be?
…I think you’ll be definitely having “thank you” bounces by the end.
Adapted from real-life rock journalist Caitlin Moran’s fictionalised memoirs, director Coky Giedroyc has delivered a genuine feel-good movie with just the right about sourness to offset any accusation of sweetness.
From the very first seconds in, it’s both clear and a relief, that Booksmart‘s Beanie Feldstein has nailed the Wolverhampton accent. Talking to her press-cuttings wall of heroes and heroines, the film sets up Johanna’s world for the first of belt of hysteria to arrive in a disastrous live TV show. And whilst How To Build A Girl skillfully darts backwards and forwards between comedy moments like this and more self-destructive tragedy, one of the film’s most enduring pleasures is its wealth and choice of its casting. Michael Sheen is Sigmund Freud, Alexei Sayle is Karl Marx and Lilly Allen is Liz Taylor with many others to be found in amongst the joins, (also keep a look-out for a fantastic Björk parody). However, the main awards go to Fear The Walking Dead‘s Frank Dillane as a louche music journalist Tony Rich and Alfie Allen who steals your heart and also much of the movie together with a much more dramatic nod from Sarah Solemani as Johanna’s mother. Paddy Considine also nails the feelgood mood as Johanna’s failed rock star dad and here I have an admission to make.
A good friend of mine was under consideration for the role Johanna’s dad and we actually shot a full-on screen test in my old kitchen in London. Sadly though, he didn’t get the nod. So, it was a little weird waiting for that scene to come up the final movie but in the end, but talent-that-he-is, Paddy Considine is still a good match for the words we all laboured over.
In this tale of Icarus-like fantasy, where Johanna suffers several bumpy landings only to glue her feathers back on and aim for the stars once more, there’s a lot to enjoy. In the end, its charm, as Johanna’s mother, “can’t be contained by a catalogue bra.”
Buy it. Stream it. Download it. I think you’ll be definitely having “thank you” bounces by the end.