How to Build a Girl review – charming, funny, raunchy and sweet

3.5

Summary

How To Build A Girl is a charming, funny, raunchy, even sweet coming-of-age tale that suffers from the script’s overindulgence of its protagonist’s quirkiness.

How to Build a Girl, the zany coming of age comedy that, depending on who you talk to, is a semi-autobiographical tale of Catherine “Caitlin” Moran, a journalist in England who writes for The Times, where she writes multiple columns that range from music, television reviews, and a “celebrity watch” feature. I’ve never read the book, but from what I can make out, Catlin is every bit the eccentric that many English are stereotyped as. Beanie Feldstein portrays Catlin, and along with its charming, funny, raunchy, and even sweet story, the film overall suffers from the protagonist’s heightened quirkiness and prevents it from becoming a true classic when it was damn close.

Caitlin (Feldstein) is a brilliant high-school student who, refreshingly when you consider how teenaged, book-smart girls are portrayed in movies, finds herself distracted by the thought of every living, breathing human boy who walks the halls of her secondary school. Her father, Pat (a nearly unrecognizable Paddy Considine), is a former drummer and actor who is currently cheating the government of disability checks. Her mother, Angie (Greed’s Sarah Solemani) is nine to five moms, who checked out by dinner. She has a bunch of siblings and is closest to her brother, Krissi (Cradle to the Grave’s Laurie Kynaston), and even more, dogs roaming the house. Bored with her life, but born with ambition in her soul, she finagles a job as a music journalist for a popular daily and helps support her family.

How to Build A Girl‘s screenplay was also written by Moran, adapted from her book of the same name. The film has its combination of sweet and sour, including a big teaspoon of mental health issues that it glosses over rather quickly. There are also peculiar subplots involving Caitlin’s story that are too cute for their own good. She really has no friends and always has her nose in a book or writing, and imagines talking to great historical figures she has posted to her wall instead of BTS poster that most girls her age had on their wall — or in her case in the early nineties, probably New Kids on the Block (yes kids, the guy from Blue Bloods used to be in a boy band). Most of these characters are played by bigger names. Michael Sheen plays Dr. Freud (or maybe the Surgeon, who can tell), while Jameela Jamil (The Good Place) takes a turn as Cleopatra, and Chris O’Dowd (Juliet, Naked) pops up as Alan “Wilko” Wilkinson. Sadly, while mildly entertaining, these devices become tired and take you out of the story that is unique and interesting on its own.

The real selling point here is Feldstein and the sweet, refreshing chemistry she has with Alfie Allen, who plays a rocker she connects with during her first interview. It gives the film an extra layer of Caitlin to relate to when there are so few she does in her real-world — including the frat boy meat-heads she writes with. Allen brings real pathos to the role that few other characters in the film have here, which tend to be cardboard at best outside her immediate family.

In all, director Coky Giedroyc’s first theatrical feature is a solid coming of age film. If the film toned down the eccentric flathead characters on Caitlin’s wall, the frat-boy antics, and spent a little more time on the mental health side of this story, they could have had an instant classic here that they possibly couldn’t reach with Moran writing her own characterization.

At the very least, How to Build a Girl is worth the price for the on-fire Beanie Feldstein, who holds the film together with heart, wit, and a touch of grace.


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M.N. Miller

M.N. Miller has been a film and television writer for Ready Steady Cut since August of 2018 and is patiently waiting for the next Pearl Jam album to come out.

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