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Rock ‘n’ Roll High School: A TIFF Review of ‘How to Build a Girl’

September 20, 2019Ben MK

There comes a time when we all feel the desire to move on; that we're destined for greatness, but it's only life that’s holding us back. For 16-year-old Johanna Morrigan (Beanie Feldstein), that time is now — but is she ready for the sudden wave of success that's about to come her way?

An aspiring author, all Johanna ever wanted was to get a boyfriend and find a way out of her boring hometown of Wolverhampton, England (circa 1993) where she lives with her stay-at-home mom (Sarah Solemani), wannabe musician dad (Paddy Considine) and three brothers. Then one day, Johanna sends in a submission to NME, in response to the music magazine's call for writers and, much to her surprise, is accepted. Before long, her nom de plume Dolly Wilde is born — a persona that, in many ways, is the exact opposite of Johanna. Flamboyant, outspoken, and prone to offending every single musician she critiques, Dolly quickly becomes the most reviled music critic in the country, leaving Johanna contemplating her own identity and struggling with how she can make amends with the people she's wronged.

Directed by Coky Giedroyc and based on the bestselling memoir by Caitlin Moran, How to Build a Girl finds itself in good company among other such coming-of-age films, like Sing Street, The Edge of Seventeen and Lady Bird. What sets it apart, though, is Feldstein, whose winning portrayal of a teenager suffering an existential crisis easily ranks as one of the most charming performances you'll see all year.

How to Build a Girl makes its world premiere at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival. Its runtime is 1 hr. 42 min.

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