Beanie Feldstein’s Wolverhampton accent isn’t always spot on but her warm, wide-eyed performance in this adaptation of Caitlin Moran’s autobiographical bestseller is, in every other respect, flawless. Graduating effortlessly from the likeable sidekicks found in Lady Bird and Booksmart to charismatic leading lady, Feldstein is the cement that holds the girl-building of the title together.
As she discusses at length with the literary icons that adorn her bedroom wall – including an animated Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, and Sylvia Plath – bookish Johanna Morrigan (Feldstein) dreams of being a writer. With no immediate connections in sixth form or in her working-class Black Country council estate, she answers an advertisement for “hip young gunslingers” in a magazine that looks like the NME. But isn’t.
Her review of the soundtrack to the musical Annie piques the interest (and scorn) of the gatekeepers of rock. Thus she reinvents herself as the devastatingly sassy Dolly Wilde, a grunge-rock goddess in a top hat.
Despite a romantic evening with a dreamy singer-songwriter played by Alfie Allen and several run-ins with sexist rock bros, Johanna’s most meaningful trajectory is one of self-realisation. Or as she puts it: “I do not think my adventure starts with a boy, it starts with me.”
After annoying almost everyone, Dolly has some explaining to do with her wannabe musician dad (a lovely turn by Paddy Considine), her harried postpartum mum (Sarah Solemani), and her fond, ticked-off brother Krissi (Laurie Kynaston).
Working from her own book, Moran preserves her trademark zingers and cheerfulness throughout the lively screenplay. The great and the good turn up in the margins: Sharon Horgan voices Jo March, and Alexei Sayle does Freud. Emma Thompson and Chris O’Dowd pop up in cameo roles.
That sense of goodwill around television veteran Coky Giedroyc’s comedy is certain to apply to even the most hard-hearted viewer.
How to Build a Girl? It takes a lot of mess and patience and fun. But she’ll get there.