Beanie Feldstien as Johanna Morrigan in How To Build A Girl.
Critics are the worst. All I wanted to do was enjoy the dark epic Superman v Batman: Both Our Dead Moms Are Named Martha, and along comes Mr. Smarty Smart Movie Critic telling me how stupid it is. Clearly, the director of the movie knows better than Mr. “I Don’t Care What Superman’s Mother’s Name Was,” because they spent $150 million bringing this spectacle of matriarchal nomenclature to life! He’s just jealous because Michael Bay collects Porsches. I wonder what kind of car Mr. Film Critic drives?
This is apparently the opinion a lot of Extremely Online people have of critics. And you know, I kinda get it. I understand that some people feel attacked when they read negative criticism of something they like. There are people who make a living writing contrarian clickbait, and there are people who are just bitter jerks who take their personality disorders out on the world. I think the key to writing good criticism is to remain a fan. I love movies. I’m always rooting for the talent on the screen and behind the camera, because I want all movies to be good. I want you to see more and better movies. I want to reward good artists and I want bad artists to get better. And for the record, I drive a 2001 Honda Civic.
Johanna Morrigan embarks on a voyage of self-discovery to become the acerbic rock critic Olivia Wilde.
How To Build A Girl is about discovering what it means to be a good critic and a good human being — not that those two states of being are either related or mutually exclusive. It’s based on a memoir by Caitlin Moran, a British journalist who got her start writing about britpop bands for New Music Express in the 1990s.
Beanie Feldstein stars as Johanna Morrigan, Moran’s surrogate. She’s a 16-year-old stuck in the working class English Midlands. Her father is a punk drummer who peaked in 1978, and her mother is a buried under the weight of caring for an unexpected pair of twins. Johanna is a talented writer who uses her art to escape her drab surroundings.
After a disastrous debut on a local TV station’s poetry contest, she decides to submit a review to NME. Her review is unexpectedly accepted, but when she makes the long trip to London to meet the other writers in the office, she discovers that the whole thing was a cruel joke played by the jaded music staff who didn’t seriously believe she was a 16-year-old girl. But Johanna brazens her way through the situation, and thanks to a generous intervention from a writer named Tony (Frank Dillane), she walks away from the encounter with a new gig, writing under the pen name Olivia Wilde.
Alfie Allen as britpop heartthrob John Kite and Beanie Feldstein as Olivia Wilde.
Johanna has a ball reinventing herself as a cool girl. But when she writes a too-glowing profile of a sensitive singer-songwriter named John Kite (Alfie Allen), Johanna discovers that mean reviews will attract more attention than glow-ups. And then it’s off to the races. Soon, her high school vitriol is paying the rent for her entire family.
Is the film about how much critics suck critic-proof? The answer, shockingly, is no. Coky Giedroyc’s direction is never subtle, and occasionally heavy-handed. But what saves the picture from wallowing in its own self-importance is Beanie Feldstein. She’s one of the best comic actors working today, and How To Build A Girl finds her at the height of her powers. Feldstein knows how to communicate with a twitch of the eyebrow, and she can nail a pratfall like Jerry Lewis. She wrings more subtlety out of the material than is on the page. The best decision Giedroyc makes is to keep Feldstein in the center of the frame and let her do her thing. How to Build a Girl succeeds as a feminist Almost Famous because Feldstein is so successful at tracing the critic’s arc from naiveté to cynicism to, finally, hard-won sincerity.
How To Build A Girl is currently available from video on demand outlets.