Film Review: How To Build A Girl – as part of the Glasgow Film Festival 2020

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I first discovered Caitlin Moran at age thirteen. Her unique writing style had me
engrossed, and she was to become one of my favourite journalists. So when I noticed
that Coky Giedroyc’s film How to Build a Girl, based on Caitlin Moran’s novel of the same
name, was to be the one closing Glasgow Film Festival, I was anxious to attend.

The film begins with our bookish protagonist Johanna (Beanie Feldstein) lamenting
over the lack of Mr Darcy’s and Rhett Butlers in her life. Her hometown of
Wolverhampton, after all, is hardly the home to any romantic hero, and our protagonist
is certainly no Elizabeth Bennet or Scarlett O’Hara. Instead, she is very funny, relatable,
and the sort of girl one immediately roots for. Like another one of her literary heroines,
Jo March, she dreams of becoming a writer. It is not long before she is able to take one
step closer to this dream of hers, as a job opens up at a hip music magazine. Attending
concerts and interviewing hot musicians is far more exciting to Johanna than any
English essay.

One highlight of How to Build a Girl was certainly the upbeat script with its scattering of
jokes. I knew scriptwriter Moran would delight, as her articles often have me laughing
away. Moreover, the various hilarious antics Johanna gets up to at interviews are
thoroughly entertaining, especially the audacity with which she asks musicians
questions. Overall, I thought her reporting style was extremely original.

One scene that particularly stood out was the one in which Johanna held a conversation
with the women in the posters on her wall. These women – ranging from Frida Kahlo to
Elizabeth Taylor – are her idols, offering inspiration and advice. The other highlight was
the casting of Beanie Feldstein as Johanna. I had only ever seen her in Ladybird as the
best friend to Saoirse Ronan’s character, but she especially shines as Johanna here,
embodying our gawky, geeky character perfectly. Beanie also nails the accent, sounding
as if she really was brought up in Wolverhampton rather than in her actual birth city of
LA.

Of course, our geek girl does change at one point. Feeling out of place in the trendy
world of music, Johanna decides that being herself isn’t enough. This geek makeover has certainly been a recurring trope in high school films, such as in She's All That and The Princess Diaries. It is a theme that I, a proud glasses wearer, feel quite sick of – the idea that ditching the glasses can make any girl a beauty. Thankfully, this film manages to present a fresh twist to this almost overused teen drama trope.

Finally, I must finish off with a confession. Sure, I had a truly great time watching Caitlin
Moran’s How to Build a Girl – but I still prefer her magazine articles to the film!

More information on the Glasgow Film Festival is available here:
https://glasgowfilm.org/glasgow-film-festival.

[Emilija Morrison – she/her – @emilijakatinas]

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