The Movie Waffler Dublin International Film Festival 2020 Review - HOW TO BUILD A GIRL | The Movie Waffler

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Dublin International Film Festival 2020 Review - HOW TO BUILD A GIRL

how to build a girl review
In 1990s Britain, a 16-year-old girl becomes a wildly popular music journalist.


Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Coky Giedroyc

Starring: Beanie Feldstein, Alfie Allen, Paddy Considine, Frank Dillane

how to build a girl poster

Much like Cameron Crowe, the prodigious British writer Caitlin Moran found herself thrust into the world of music journalism at the tender age of 16 when she landed a job at the once wildly popular publication Melody Maker. Based on Moran's book of the same name, director Coky Giedroyc's How to Build a Girl (co-written with Moran) reduces Moran's no-doubt fascinating experiences into a misguided early '90s set attempt to ape recent American coming-of-age comedies.

It all goes wrong from the off, with twentysomething American actress Beanie Feldstein miscast as Moran's 16-year-old surrogate Johanna Morrigan. Feldstein's attempt at a Wolverhampton accent is akin to listening to a dog being strangled, and we sure hear a lot of it. When Johanna isn't waffling on we're forced to endure her voiceover, which lazily fills in many of the film's gaps in character development.

how to build a girl review


An outsider at school, Johanna decides on a whim that she's going to be a music critic and so sends a review of the Annie soundtrack to London based music journal D&ME (which when spoken aloud confusingly sounds like "the NME", Melody Maker's bitter rival). Unsurprisingly the cynical rock hacks at the publication find it hilarious, but decide to give Johanna a job for a laugh regardless.

[ READ MORE: Dublin International Film Festival 2020 Review - The Truth ]

Changing her fashion style and adopting the porn-esque pseudonym of Dolly Wild, Johanna finds herself jetting around Britain to attend gigs and interview stars. Initially, she writes with the unfettered enthusiasm you might expect of a starstruck teen, but following advice from her editor, she switches to a more ruthless approach. Johanna becomes the bane of the music industry with her savage reviews, which often cross the line into personal attacks.

how to build a girl review


What follows is the usual clichΓ©d storyline of a once humble person turning into a monster thanks to their newfound fame. That it relies on the old myth that critics exist simply to tear down art rather than elevate and create a better appreciation of it makes it all the more difficult to warm to the film's trite sermonising. As a teen I was an ardent reader of both NME and Melody Maker, and in their pages a negative review of an up and coming artist was as rare as a unicorn. If anything, music journalism of that era suffered more from sycophancy than scornfully dismissive reviews.

[ READ MORE: Dublin International Film Festival 2020 Review - The Audition ]

With its sunny palette, How to Build a Girl seems desperate to appropriate the feel of an American teen comedy, and the weather is curiously Californian for a movie set in the gloomy UK. Twee affectations like the posters on Johanna's wall of influential historical figures (played by a host of cameoing stars) coming to life to impart advice may cause you to roll your eyes (it was a novel idea in Absolute Beginners, but it's become a clichΓ© of teen movies in the decades since).

how to build a girl review


Moran's story has the potential for an extremely interesting screen translation, an example of something that simply couldn't happen today for a variety of economic, cultural and societal reasons. But the movie never delves into her experience in any depth, and it particularly glosses over the fact that she was technically a child who was sleeping in the hotel rooms of adult male rockstars. Drugs are suspiciously absent, and the musicians Johanna encounters all behave like choirboys. With all the revelations that have come out in recent years regarding the dark side of the entertainment industry, How to Build a Girl comes off like an attempt to whitewash the world of popular music, a pre-emptive piece of PR for the inevitable me-too-ing of that world that will arrive when the movement is through with the film industry.
How to Build a Girl is in UK/ROI cinemas July 3rd.



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