Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Movie with Abe: How to Build a Girl

How to Build a Girl
Directed by Coky Giedroyc
Released May 8, 2020

There are people who don’t fit a particular mold and therefore find themselves ostracized from social groups and circles of friends. That can be troubling and isolating for some, while others embrace their uniqueness, celebrating what makes them different and marching, as the expression goes, to the beat of their own drum. When invited to share their perspective with a wide audience, the inclination can be strong to jump at the opportunity. How the world responds when they’re given insight into the mind of someone who can’t exactly be described as normative is a real question mark that can greatly affect the course of their career and life.

Sixteen-year-old Johanna Morrigan (Beanie Feldstein) lives in the English city of Wolverhampton, writing hundreds of pages of intellectual stories whenever she is assigned a simple short report in class. When an opportunity to read her writing on-air goes awry, she applies for a job as a rock critic. Turned away initially because of her appearance and youth, Johanna makes an appeal to the staff for them to give her a chance. Determined to be a success and to shed her buttoned-up geek image, she transforms herself into something entirely new, dying her hair red, putting on a top hat, and embracing a whole new her to fiercely engage with the music world.

Feldstein is a popular American actress known for “Hello, Dolly!” on Broadway and the recent film “Booksmart.” Putting on an accent here, she demonstrates a superb commitment to comedy in inhabiting the role of the spirited Johanna, who is humorously advised by a wall of pictures of her idols, which include Elizabeth Taylor, Sigmund Freud, Jo March, and Sylvia Plath. The casting of actors like Michael Sheen, Lucy Punch, and Gemma Arterton to fill those parts is a delight. In the supporting cast, Paddy Considine shines as Johanna’s aimless free spirit father, and Alfie Allen, a familiar face from “Game of Thrones,” is a great choice to play the famous musician who rattles Johanna and causes her to fall head over heels in what she believes is love.

The 1990s setting of this film is crucial to the feelings it evokes, costuming its characters and coloring its backgrounds to make Wolverhampton seem like the kind of place no one ever leaves, something Johanna dreads as her guaranteed go-nowhere future. Watching her take this trip, gradually tuning out the intellectual influences on her wall as she becomes more and more seduced by the allure of fame, sex, and partying is familiar and at the same time made all her own thanks to Feldstein’s performance and the story’s framing in the film. It’s a fun and worthwhile nostalgia trip back to a time and place that should feel relatable for many.


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