Have you ever secretly hoped that there was a version of the movie Almost Famous with a female protagonist? I know that’s a very specific question, but if you have for whatever reason, the closest you can come to that experience is the film How to Build a Girl. Both are based on real-life experiences, both take an awkward teenager and throw them into the rock world, and both celebrate the music scenes of their respective times. However, that’s where the comparisons end and How to Build a Girl veers into its own territory.
Johanna Morrigan (Beanie Feldstein) is a teenager in the early 1990s with an extremely vivid imagination and a talent for writing that’s unparalleled to the rest of her classmates. For example, her teacher has to tell her that writing a 32-page essay is not appropriate for the assignment. For another example, Johanna has a series of her heroes’ photos on her wall that she has full-fledged conversations with regularly. Some of those heroes offer funny cameos, such as Michael Sheen as Sigmund Freud, Lily Allen as Elizabeth Taylor, Gemma Arterton as Maria Von Trapp, Lucy Punch as Sylvia Plath, Sharon Horgan as Jo March, and many more.
“…Johanna transforms her entire appearance and decides to change her name to Dolly Wilde.”
While Johanna wishes for a more exciting life than the one that’s being offered in Wolverhampton, her mother (Sarah Solemani) is suffering from post-partum depression after the birth of unexpected twins. All the while, her father (Paddy Considine) is suffering from the delusion that his one brief moment of rock-and-roll stardom as a drummer in a band will return. And her brother Krissi (Laurie Kynaston), suffers from the same boredom and disgust with town and school as Johanna does. She ends up becoming a finalist in a poetry contest on a local tv show, whose host is played by Chris O’Dowd. When she goes to the taping, she gets incredibly nervous and makes a spectacle of herself, and not in a good way.
After this, Johanna finds a job as a music critic in the paper, and since she never really got into music, she sends them a review of the soundtrack to the movie Annie. The magazine, D&ME, offers her an interview, but it turns out they thought that the review was a joke. When she goes home, feeling defeated, she decides to change her image to go back and get another chance. With nine pounds that Krissi has been saving for three years, Johanna transforms her entire appearance and decides to change her name to Dolly Wilde. She goes back and gets a job, and then her life as Dolly Wilde begins.
Dolly Wilde is a very different person from Johanna Morrigan, and not just physically. Her life is transformed the first time she goes to a concert that’s supposed to be the Manic Street Preachers (the actual band disbanded years ago after the famous disappearance of their lead singer). She falls in love with the world of rock’n’roll. Meanwhile, the money she’s getting from her job as a music critic is being used to get the family’s TV back and to pay the rent.
"…Dolly Wilde is a very different person from Johanna Morrigan..."