Beanie Feldstein takes the lead as Johanna Morrigan in “HOW TO BUILD A GIRL”. After great performances in both “Lady Bird” and last years “Booksmart”. In addition to never seeming short of charisma, Feldstein feels like the perfect fit for this role. A free-spirited but shy girl who would reinvent herself as Dolly Wilde. A sharp tongued, adventuresome young woman, who would get a job as a music critic to help her struggling family. However, without that older guidance, she finds herself getting lost in the appeal of industry social circles, with the glamour going to her head.
These are dynamics that blend to create a quirky, quick-witted character, with a personality that is as bold as her fashionable top hat and red hair. Feldstein embodies all of this with a youthful energy you would hope for in a coming-of-age tale. This film may not be for everyone. It navigates through the life of Morrigan as she reinvents herself as Wilde by hitting some familiar stops along the way. It’s the routine story of a teenager who is a bit of a loner socially, that has a passion for something creative. In this film that creative outlet is writing, and Morrigan thrives in her art. She lands a dream job that will help her family financially, while also achieving a level of social status that she isn’t sure how to respond to because it’s something she has never experienced. Love is thrown in the mix, as well as our lead hurting those close to her. And from there, the closing gives us the full spectrum of internal growth we’ve seen before.
It’s a bit by-the-numbers, but there are plenty of comical bits in the writing. A supporting cast that brings life to their roles. With a great lead performance from Feldstein to carry the entertainment. It’s filled with snarky British humor that will either appeal to you or it won’t. The mood and the atmosphere will also not grab everyone. It does have a few quick, admittedly ill-timed tonal shifts. The film attempts to be serious then will quickly jab in splashes of humor and I felt it undercut the potential of diving into the character more. I certainly enjoyed Feldstein in this film. She was both humorous and endearing, but she also felt a bit too theatrical. She felt like she was constantly on, which prevented me from connecting to this character as a genuine person going through major issues of adolescence.
This was primarily due to the pacing of the story as it felt patchy and uneven more than a few times. Regardless of its ability to tell a captivating, surface level coming-of-age tale. And even though the dramatic range of Feldstein wasn’t tested like it could have been, this was still a fun movie. It touches on the dramatic elements but doesn’t linger there too long. The comedic attempts, the zesty personality from the characters, and Feldstein’s enthusiastic sense of life and humor were the focus, and it manages nicely for crafting solid laughs. Despite a her carrying a British accent that sounded good to me for the most part, even if it may not have been as natural as some seasoned actors. It certainly felt over embellished at times, but I wasn’t too sure if that was the intention.
I tend to enjoy films that are a little off-the-wall, that break free from the more traditional standards. This movie does hover in the formulaic region. Yet it also has an eccentricity to it that I found appealing and free-spirited. It’s mildly fantastical but still grounded and with great performances from Paddy Considine and Chris O’Dowd, among others, Feldstein has a solid team around her. Both O’Dowd and Considine deliver amusement through their roles and as the father, Considine also provides some simple but emotionally engaging moments with Feldstein throughout the progression of the narrative that I found unassumingly heartwarming. It’s an adventurous film that does have a few flaws, but the good certainly outweighs the bad. It’s a down-to-earth story told through an adventurous lens as it journeys through music, love, and growing up, while also taking you to another time and place.