By: Amanda Guarragi
“No, I don’t think my adventure starts with a boy. I think it starts with me.”
How to Build a Girl is so refreshing. It’s witty, whimsical, carefree and adventurous. It takes the viewer on a journey of self discovery, with its lead character Johanna Morrigan and it creates this zest for life atmosphere that you feel in your soul. Coky Giedroyc brought the character of Johanna to screen, she brought the audience into her sixteen-year-old headspace and it was beautiful. It shows the raw, emotional journey of growing into your own woman, during your adolescent years and how difficult it can be.
At 16 years old, we all feel helpless, lost and scared of what the future may bring. We are too young to be adults and too old to still be in the cocoon of childhood. Everyone tells us that we should be more responsible, but then when we take on the responsibilities, we’re too young to be thinking of those things. It’s nowhere near a balanced lifestyle and that’s why we go through phases. We like to experiment and try different things because the truth is, we have no idea who we are, we just have an expectation of who everyone else wants us to be.
It is a very hard age because there is so much pressure on teenagers to start building their life, when they have no idea who they are yet. Whether it be from teachers, social groups or family, teenagers are under a lot of pressure. Giedroyc perfectly shows the mental journey of a 16 year old and I don’t think I’ve ever seen it, this accurate, on screen before, especially from a young girl’s perspective. Parents do not understand that their own financial issues or marriage issues, are often projected on their children and deeply affect the teenager’s mental state. Sometimes they think that they have to do more than they already are and become an adult faster, other times they fall into darkness and lose sight of who they are.
The best aspect of Ms. Johanna Morrigan was her deep, loving soul and her appreciation for life. Beanie Feldstein brought such fearlessness, charm and intellect to this role. Her intensity as Johanna towards the things she loves, like writing, was lovely to see because her passion shined through. It’s also a wonderful story about creativity and how people bond over words on a page, or lyrics to a song. Those who are creative, have always attached themselves to a medium that brings them peace. Those ambitions and goals, that creatives make for themselves, are what drives them to the very top and allows them to reach greatness.
Johanna Morrigan’s journey is most definitely a rollercoaster. She wanted to be a writer and break into the industry so badly, that she became a critic for rock music. At the end of the day, getting published in the newspaper, is all that really matters and she definitely succeeded. She was making money for her family and she created an entire new persona “Dolly Wilde” because that’s who she thought she would be in the future. At first Johanna was clean cut and found the beauty in the artists music, that she was critiquing. Then one poor decision, lead to more poor decisions and got her to the point where Dolly Wilde had consumed her spirit.
Johanna lived the rockstar lifestyle with Dolly Wilde, but it wasn’t the person that suited her and it essentially lead to her downfall. Johanna is a layered, complex teenager and she went on her own journey of finding her identity. It seemed like the weight of the world was on Johanna’s shoulders because it started out with her achieving her goals, while still bringing in money for her family. She let the fame and greed get to her head. It presented the issues of mental illness and self harm in a very subtle way that made you understand Johanna’s thought process.
Everything about How to Build a Girl was spot on and it’s one of the best coming of age films I have seen this year. The screenplay, written by Caitlin Moran and John Niven, was very realistic, it had me laughing at the scenes where Johanna was daydreaming about boys and situations that she wished would happen. The wardrobe for Johanna was as whimsical and carefree as she was and I loved that her soul was represented in her attire. What was also really well done was the soundtrack. Each song that was picked represented the scene perfectly and even if Johanna wasn’t truly saying what she was feeling, the song did it for her and I think that added another layer to her character.
The title of this film makes perfect sense. Teenagers, most importantly young teenage girls, go through so many challenges growing up and it’s all apart of the building process. The monologue at the end, that Johanna speaks directly into the camera, felt like it was a message being directed to every young girl or woman watching. It was almost like reassurance, that it’s okay to change, or to start over and build yourself up, after you’ve been torn down. Everyone goes through these changes in their life and How to Build a Girl makes that journey a joyous achievement for young women everywhere.