LONDON: Your enjoyment of “How To Build A Girl” will depend greatly on one thing: whether or not you can get past American actor Beanie Feldstein’s attempts at a regional British accent (Wolverhampton, specifically).
In all other areas, this big-screen adaptation of journalist Caitlin Moran’s semi-autobiographical, coming-of-age novel pitches it just about right. There’s an engaging protagonist to root for, a stellar ensemble cast, a lovingly nostalgic look back at the UK’s vibrant music scene of the Nineties, and a well-judged warts-and-all message buried at the heart of the movie.
Feldstein plays Johanna Morrigan, a 16-year-old aspiring writer who dreams of a bigger life than her well-intentioned parents (played with fond rawness by Paddy Considine and Sarah Solemani) ever had. Johanna applies for a job at a London-based music paper and (somewhat unbelievably) lands the gig as a music critic, moves out of her family’s crowded council house and down to the ‘big city,’ dyes her hair red and adopts the moniker Dolly Wilde.
As Dolly carves our a reputation for herself in the hedonistic music scene, Johanna’s family see her slip away from them, as the girl they remember faces off against a chauvinistic culture only too quick to prey on her naivety.
That meandering accent aside, Feldstein is good value, imparting Johanna with enough smarts to hold her own, but also with a desperate need for acceptance and validation that is all too relatable. The characters she meets (from Alfie Allen’s good-natured musician to Frank Dillane’s sleazy journalist) pepper the lovingly recreated Nineties music industry with personality, and there’s a number of great blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameos from some of the biggest names in UK entertainment.
The feel-good ending is a little telegraphed, and some of the more interesting relationships from Moran’s novel get shortchanged. But there’s enough to love about “How To Build A Girl” to make you forgive its shortcomings. Accents included.