Review by Sean Boelman
Written by Caitlin Moran from her book of the same name, the new comedy How to Build a Girl has everything on paper that it needs to be a success. Yet despite a cute premise, star-studded cast, and inspired direction from Coky Giedroyc, the film is simply too overzealous to be anything short of annoying.
The movie follows an academically-gifted teenager in 1990s Britain as she decides to reinvent herself and become an infamously harsh and confrontational rock critic. Coming-of-age stories set in the world of rock and roll are more abundant than is necessary, and despite a feminist twist and a premise that would suggest otherwise, this one largely lacks bite.
Part of this issue here is that the film’s themes aren’t particularly well-developed. The ever-present genre motif of the protagonist realizing that it is better to be oneself that pretend to be someone else provides the core arc of the movie. However, since this is crammed into the final third of the film, it instead comes across as the protagonist having to choose between success and happiness.
The root cause of the script’s many flaws can likely be boiled down to the fact that a lot was likely lost in adaptation. The source material is over three-hundred pages long, and yet the movie clocks in at just an hour and forty-two minutes. It’s easy to see where the act divisions are, and it feels like a lot of material is missing from the last two-thirds.
Another irksome thing about the film is that its protagonist simply isn’t likable. Johanna is almost an antihero in nature, and yet Moran’s script doesn't seem to recognize that. It’s certainly very difficult to write a protagonist as standoffish as this while feeling sincere, and unfortunately, Moran fell victim to that challenge.
Rising star Beanie Feldstein delivers her first dud in this movie, going a bit too over-the-top to be believable (and the lackluster British accent doesn’t help). Paddy Considine is a highlight in the supporting cast, with a performance that finally uses his talents, and entertaining cameos are made by Emma Thompson, Chris O’Dowd, Michael Sheen, and others, but don’t have enough screen time to make a significant difference.
It’s a shame that the script feels so rushed and underdeveloped because Giedroyc seems to be a legitimately great director and she brings a lot of style to the film. The visuals and editing are very ambitious and give the movie a lot of energy. Unfortunately, that liveliness doesn’t mesh too well with the false sense of vitality from the writing.
How to Build a Girl is undoubtedly one of the biggest disappointments of the year so far — a near total misfire. It’s almost ironic to be the naysayer on a film about a contrarian critic, but alas, here we are.
How to Build a Girl hits VOD on May 8.