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Review: Some Assembly Required for Generic 'How to Build A Girl'

by Derek Deskins
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Aug 18, 2020
Review: Some Assembly Required for Generic 'How to Build A Girl'

Typically, when dealing with a coming-of-age movie, you have a central character that you feel intimately aware of. You spend the entirety of the film getting to know this one person, seeing them grow, and understanding that growth. It feels sad and lonely to say, but in the greatest coming-of-age movies, they feel like a new friend. But in the case of "How to Build a Girl," I don't know the main character any better now than when the movie started.

Johanna Morrigan yearns to escape her place in life. The personification of adolescent awkwardness, Johanna feels inextricably stuck in her family's council estate in Wolverhampton. Her dreams of becoming a writer appear to be coming to fruition when a poem of hers is selected as part of a televised competition. Unfortunately, her nerves get the best of her and it all blows up in her face. She's feeling worse off than before when her brother points her to an ad for a rock critic position at a London music paper. Despite not having any particular interest in music, Johanna throws herself at the opportunity and it changes her world.

Initially, "How to Build a Girl" sparked my interest. Beanie Feldstein has proven herself as an actor to watch, and she seems particularly comfortable in the main role. The Johanna of the film's beginning feels like someone familiar, a student that shines brighter than her peers and in so doing alienates them all. But as the movie segues into its next phase, it kind of gets away from everyone involved. What began as a sweet and intimate portrait of Johanna becomes muddled, crowded with superfluous characters and trite clich├ęs.

The transition is jarring, aided by the drastic costume change that Johanna undertakes as she becomes Dolly Wilde (the pen name she adopts for her savage music reviews). The movie stops being about Johanna and her journey, and instead becomes about the excess and the surrounding characters' attempts to prove themselves worthwhile. Director Coky Giedroyc throws away the film's strengths to seemingly no end. The movie is not helped by this abandonment of individuality, succumbing to models and tropes that were tired two decades ago. What was something interesting and potentially unique becomes neutered, generic, and not worth your time.

The Blu-ray release (and it is, in fact, only a Blu-ray) is about what you would expect for the movie itself. As I began to delve into the special features, I was initially intrigued. The first feature is nearly twenty minutes of behind-the-scenes shots and interviews delving into the film's main character. It's interesting, if not particularly probing. However, the rest of the features are brief retreads, struggling to gather enough content to hit the five-minute mark. While I had briefly alluded to the restrictions of this media release, it bears repeating: This release features a Blu-ray disc only; no DVD, no Digital Copy, nothing else. If this were to have been released in the 2000s, it'd be no big deal, but in 2020, it feels odd and withholding.

"How to Build a Girl" is a hopelessly generic coming-of-age story that is barely concerned with understanding its own characters. With a lesser cast, I may have forgiven its broad sensibilities, but its complete waste of an unexceptionally talented troupe of actors feels unforgivable.

"How to Build a Girl"

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