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Beanie Feldstein Charms Her Way Through Learning “How To Build A Girl”

In just a few short years, Beanie Feldstein has become a comedic force in the business. After first making an impression in the surprisingly great sequel Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, Feldstein of course turned in an incredible supporting performance in Lady Bird. Last year, she blew us away with a central turn in Booksmart, and now, she gets a starring role all her own. How to Build a Girl, which premiered last year at the Toronto International Film Festival, is a charming movie with more glorious work from the actress. She’s going to be a huge star, that’s a given. This is just an example of her taking a good flick and elevating it to nearly a great one.

The film is a coming of age story, focused on small town girl Johanna Morrigan (Feldstein). Living in Wolverhampton with her very poor family, she dreams of a life more glamorous, hopefully as a writer in London. An overachiever in school, her writing isn’t appreciated, that is, until she gets a job as a music critic and reinvents herself. Initially as a way of making money for her family, as well as bonding with her dad Pat (Paddy Considine), but then as a way of embracing life, she goes from Johanna to Dolly Wilde, a free spirit who loves sex, hates almost all bands, and has a zest that few can ignore. This alter ego brings her some level of notoriety, but as she changes more and more, is she losing what made Johanna special in the first place? Coky Giedroyc directs a screenplay by Caitlin Moran, who adapted her own novel. Oli Julian composed the score, while the cinematography is by Hubert Taczanowski. Supporting players include Alfie Allen, Gemma Arterton, Frank Dillane, Jameela Jamil, Chris O’Dowd, Lucy Punch, Joanna Scanlan, Michael Sheen, Emma Thompson, and more.

Beanie Feldstein shows off both comedic and dramatic chops here, anchoring the movie with a deeply human performance. Both as Johanna, as well as once she becomes Dolly, Feldstein is full of life, almost jumping right off of the screen. The material is well suited to this sort of liveliness, and even though no one else in the flick is on that same level, she still shines. In fact, it’s fair to say that her work is a solid part of why this is the success that it is. Without here, it would certainly feel like it was lacking a certain something.

How to Build a Girl does ultimately end up in a fairly obvious place, and takes a bit longer to get there than you’d hope for (this runs over 100 minutes and is begging to be closer to 80 minutes), but Feldstein takes writer Caitlin Moran’s vivid creation and adds even more life to her, allowing director Coky Giedroyc to craft a winning story. You may have seen much of this before, but never quite in this way, and never with Feldstein leading the way. At its core, this is mostly a showcase for her, but it’s hard to complain when what a showcase it is.

This weekend, audiences who have enjoyed Beanie Feldstein before, or just those who dig a good coming of age tale, will be in for a treat when How to Build a Girl drops. It’s a fun character study with some really enjoyable bits to it, led by a wonderful Feldstein turn. How can you beat that? While this would have been perfect counter-programming to the blockbusters that were meant to litter our late Spring/early Summer cinematic landscape, it still works even in these strange times. Give it a look and you’ll almost certainly be charmed by Feldstein, who brings her all to this one, with glorious results.

Be sure to check out How to Build a Girl, available to watch on Friday!

(Photos Courtesy of IFC Films)

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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