Caitlin Moran is kind of a big deal. A multi-award winning journalist, a highly influential feminist after her non-fiction book How To Be A Woman, and now a successful movie screenwriter as her novel How To Build A Girl Comes to the big screen. Or rather it would have, were it not for COVID19, instead the movie lands on Amazon Prime after it premiered at the Toronto Film Festival last year.
How To Build A Girl is the semi-autobiographical story of Johanna Morrigan, a 16-year-old from a big family growing up in Wolverhampton in the ‘90s. With How To Be A Woman and the TV series Raised By Wolves Moran has told stories of her childhood before but this particular version is centred on her early career as a music journalist. Johanna, played with considerable charm by Beanie Feldstein, is an idealistic teenager who is close to her musician father (Paddy Considine). She’s a gifted writer too and after she enters a reviewing competition writing about the Annie soundtrack she bags a role writing for music weekly D&Me – a stand-in for Melody Maker, which Moran herself began reviewing for when she was just 16.
A lone girl in a world of men, Johanna decides to reinvent herself as Dolly Wilde, a more confident and outrageous version of herself. Dolly learns quickly that in her field passion, honesty and enthusiasm aren’t anywhere near as prized as snark and mockery, churning out one liners like “Jump Around by House of Pain is the kind of music testicles would make” until Dolly becomes a celebrated a-hole.
How To Build a Girl is as much a love letter to the heyday of print entertainment journalism as it is a coming of age tale. Almost like a grungy Brit alternative to The Devil Wears Prada, it’s easy to see how anyone, not least a hard-up teenaged girl, would get seduced by the heady world of parties and awards, access all areas and screaming fans of your own. The dresses get more elaborate, the egos get bigger and something’s got to give.