Starring: Beanie Feldstein, Paddy Considine, Sarah Solemani
Director: Coky Giedroyc
Running Time: 102 mins
How To Build A Girl is a British film about a teenage girl from a working-class background who grows up to be a music journalist with a controversial reputation that changes her home life irreparably.
It seems 1980s and 90s coming-of-age movies are all the rage at the moment, but How To Build A Girl doesn’t really stand out among the crowd. Though an engaging story filled with strong energy, it’s far from the most immersive or nostalgic watch, nor a particularly touching tale of growing up – pushing the limits a little too much at times.
Of course, pushing the limits and trying something different is just what a film like this should do to stand out from the crowd of coming-of-age movies. At times, How To Build A Girl’s almost fable-like rags to riches story is more memorable than purely focusing on the awkward realities of growing up, but at others, it feels a rather superficial patch on an otherwise less-than-powerful story.
The morals here are relatable and well-meaning, albeit fairly simple. It’s about a teenage girl who gets her big break in writing, but is forced to sell out on her true voice to succeed, inevitably leading to controversy and conflict both with others and her own conscience.
That story is nothing new – we’ve seen it in the likes of How To Lose Friends & Alienate People and Fighting With My Family) – but unlike those two films, How To Build A Girl neither has a particularly genuine heart nor a great sense of humour to boost the appeal of its plot.
Normally, a good coming-of-age movie is able to really tug at your heartstrings by telling a relatable and above all honest story about the challenges of growing up. Now, those certainly aren’t the same for everyone, but I think it’s fair to say that this film goes a little overboard with its story, into territory where this genre really isn’t at its best.
Far from the small-scale, genuine drama of the best coming-of-age films, How To Build A Girl sees its main character rocket rapidly through the ranks, only to come crashing down again just as quickly. However, the movie simultaneously tries to get you to sympathise with her as if she is a normal teenage girl, which is really quite difficult to do.
As a result, the film comes off as a rather superficial coming-of-age drama, and one that’s a lot more focused on the rags-to-riches side of its story.
What’s more, How To Build A Girl doesn’t do the best job of recreating the essence of its time period. It’s not an enormously captivating or even convincing picture of Britain in the early ’90s (I must admit I regularly forgot this film wasn’t set in the present day), and pales in comparison to more loving era tributes like Blinded By The Light.
The performances are one of the film’s saving graces, with an energetic and captivating lead turn by Beanie Feldstein, bringing an impressive likeability to a character that could have been so easy to loathe. Many of the supporting turns are good too, albeit none really stand out as immensely hilarious or dramatically gripping.
Overall, How To Build A Girl is a bit of a mixed bag in my book. It’s not a bad film by any means, and its story is well-meaning and engaging at times. But, it’s a poor attempt at telling gripping coming-of-age drama, and it fails to get you on side in its more moralistic moments. The performances are good, but don’t quite do enough to add that extra spark. So, that’s why I’m giving this film a 6.9.