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Some pure Caitlin Moran gold is to be had in this very funny and sometimes inspiring coming-of-age comedy, adapted by the columnist and author Moran from her bestselling autobiographical novel from 2014 and directed by Coky Giedroyc. The story takes us to Moran’s now legendary upbringing in a Midlands council house with many siblings: the same scenario she sketched out in her excellent (and scandalously cancelled) Channel 4 TV sitcom Raised By Wolves — and rapidly becoming as mythical as Billy Liar’s home-life in Keith Waterhouse’s novel. It is all, as ever, treated with hilarious and utterly unsentimental wit and affection.
The American star Beanie Feldstein plays nerdy, friendless sixth-former and bibliophile Johanna Korrigan, and moreover does so with a pretty decent Wolverhampton accent — this isn’t like the dodgy Yorkshire accent of Anne Hathaway in One Day or that of Josh Hartnett in the comedy Blow Dry about a sexy hairdresser in Keighley.
Johanna has a gallery of heroes up on her bedroom wall, including Sigmund Freud, Sylvia Plath, Karl Marx, Julie Andrews and David Bowie. (No Morrissey, though.) These icons — themselves played by a gallery of big names — often come to life and speak to dreamy Johanna, a touch borrowed from Julien Temple’s 1986 musical Absolute Beginners. Johanna one day goes for broke and answers an ad for “hip young gunslingers” in a music mag that resembles the NME, but called the Disc & Music Echo or “D&ME” — geddit?
Johanna submits to them a bizarre review of the Annie Musical soundtrack album and finds that she’s a hit. (When the actual Annie song “Tomorrow” surges over a montage of Johanna’s subsequent trip to London, it’s weirdly compelling and moving.) Johanna reinvents herself as supercool journo Dolly Wilde, but has to deal with the sexist creeps in the journalism business, and handles it all by going over to the dark side of cynicism and lucrative snarkery, to the dismay of her family. There’s an excellent performance from Paddy Considine as her easygoing dad, poignantly longing for his talent as a jazz musician to be recognised and hoping that his journalist daughter will get him the fame he yearns for.
Johanna is based mostly on Moran, but also a bit on Julie Burchill, who famously made the journey from Bristol to London to work for the NME in the earlier punk era of the 70s, the era of, among other things, The Clash’s Guns On The Roof, which this movie appears to reference. The ghost of Burchill could almost be the Mr Hyde to Johanna’s basically nice Dr Jekyll, the smoking sodium fragment of nasty-genius which sparks her career in its sensationally wicked early stages. But Johanna’s zingers and gags are pure Caitlin Moran, brilliant one-liners such as her enigmatic pronouncement: “I love doors; they make the outside stop.”
As for Feldstein herself, she has of course featured in comparable indie US pictures like Lady Bird and Booksmart, but there’s a big difference here: the difference is social class. In this British story, working-class Johanna has to hurdle the barriers put up by the snobs and gatekeepers but there isn’t the same sort of problem for her character in Booksmart. For all that, Moran’s film is about how she experienced journalism — particularly music journalism — as a way ahead for a smart working-class kid, and the implication is that journalism could and should continue to be more like this. And gender is another factor: the people “building” girls, the promoters and producers and executives, tend to be men; Johanna is building herself and taking charge of her own destiny. What a thoroughly likeable and funny film.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: How to Build a Girl review – Caitlin Moran memoir becomes funny and generous film | Film