How to Build a Girl
- Emma Simmonds
- 6 March 2020
GFF 2020: Hilarious humiliation powers this semi-autobiographical comedy from writer Caitlin Moran
Caitlin Moran's smash-hit novel becomes a likeably ludicrous comedy about a square peg struggling to fit in the round hole of Wolverhampton. This 'true-ish' story (it's somewhat based on Moran's own chaotic upbringing) treads almost identical ground to TV's Raised By Wolves but is lent a bit of Hollywood razzmatazz by the casting of Booksmart's comic dynamo Beanie Feldstein.
It's not quite as provocative as the novel, though follows the same basic plot. Feldstein is Johanna Morrigan, a bookish teen blessed with a 'rich internal life' who's like a magnet for embarrassment. Her beloved mother (Sarah Solemani) has checked-out with post-natal depression following the birth of 'the unexpected twins', while her father (Paddy Considine, of course) is still preoccupied by his long defunct dream of becoming a musician.
After an especially mortifying episode reading a poem on Today in the Midlands, Johanna's fortunes change when she's picked up as a writer for the D&ME (a thinly disguised NME, though Moran herself wrote for Melody Maker). There, she's thrown into an intimidating hotbed of male privilege, reinventing herself as poison-penned critic Dolly Wilde.
Although the California-born Feldstein may be getting a little old for these teen roles (she's 26) and her West Midlands' accent suffers a fair few wobbles, it doesn't distract from her typically confident comedic work. And Alfie Allen is nicely cast against type as sensitive musician John Kite, who Johanna has a delightful day with, before falling hopelessly under his spell.
But the real star of the show is the hysterical script from Moran, which contains at least twice as many memorable lines as your average successful comedy – her characterful turn of phrase and killer observations positively singing from the screen. 'Losing the TV is tough,' Johanna reflects, 'Like when Beth dies in Little Women.'
Director Coky Giedroyc (the sister of presenter Mel, who's worked mainly in TV since 90s efforts Stella Does Tricks and Women Talking Dirty) helps the humour pop, showing a gift for capturing and weaponising reactions – the local TV studio scene where Johanna alarms host Chris O'Dowd is an absolute masterclass in hilarious humiliation. Rarely has blundering your way through life seemed like so much fun.
Screening on Sun 8 Mar as part of the Glasgow Film Festival 2020. General release from Fri 3 Jul.