‘How To Build A Girl’ is an ‘Almost Famous’-esque tale with a feminist bent, vitally placing a teenage girl’s creative ambition front and center.
“It is the titular role,” Beanie Feldstein‘s Julie yells in one of Lady Bird’s best (and most eminently memeable) lines, referring to the tempest of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Fittingly, she’s now set to star as the titular girl of How To Build A Girl, an adaptation of English writer Caitlin Moran’s novel of the same name. The coming-of-age story centers on Johanna Morrigan, a wickedly smart, self-aware, and overweight working-class 16-year-old stuck in the sleepy English West Midlands circa 1990. Desperate to find a way out of her family’s financial circumstances and make a name for herself, Morrigan takes on the alter ego of “Dolly Wilde,” a fearless music critic.
The script will be penned by Moran, a vocal feminist best known for her memoir “How to Be a Woman,” and the film will be directed by BAFTA-nominated filmmaker Coky Giedroyc. Giedroyc has a history of bringing unconventional stories about working women to life in films like Women Talking Dirty and Stella Does Tricks, as well as in her experience directing episodes of television shows like the criminally underrated The Hour and Harlots – all credits that add a promising pedigree to a story about a scrappy teenage girl striving to become a successful journalist.
According to Deadline, Morrigan is “a fast-talking, lady sex-adventurer” and “one of the great female literary icons” on par with Elizabeth Bennet and Bridget Jones. Feldstein is no stranger to stories of female adolescence, having also played a crucial supporting role in Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising before Lady Bird, and she’s also booked a co-leading role in Olivia Wilde’s upcoming directorial debut Booksmart. But How To Build A Girl seems like a uniquely noteworthy addition to the canon of female coming-of-age films because of its unequivocal focus on a young woman’s creative ambition.
Of course, the demand for heartfelt big-screen stories about teenage girls growing up and realizing their talents has only grown over the years. How To Build A Girl is poised to join the storied ranks of a genre that’s grown to rely heavily on female writers and directors to bring these narratives to life – from the frank, raunchy wit of recent features like Marielle Heller’s The Diary of a Teenage Girl (itself an adaptation of a graphic novel by Phoebe Gloeckner) and Kelly Fremon Craig’s The Edge of Seventeen to the empathetic, full-bodied realism of Greta Gerwig’s oeuvre.
Yet despite these films’ success, it’s still somewhat difficult to find female takes on the künstlerroman, the story of an artist’s growth to maturity (it’s often classified as a subgenre of the bildungsroman, which describes coming of age in general). Pop culture is still largely hard-pressed for positive representations of young women so keenly aware of what they want to achieve, who pursue their professional goals with such unabashed wanting and long to be seen as seen as creators in their own right. It’s hard to think of female counterparts to beloved films like Dead Poets Society, Good Will Hunting, or Almost Famous, which all place young men’s struggle to realize their creative and/or intellectual potential front and center. How To Build A Girl feels distinctly refreshing because we still lack these points of reference for stories about teenage girls – especially overweight and working-class ones – who actively pursue careers as writers and artists.
One sparkling passage, quoted in NPR’s review of the novel, captures the spirit of the story and hints at the kind of driven, sharply perceptive character that Feldstein will be playing. It’s when Morrigan contemplates the concept of the “‘self-made man’ – not of woman born but alchemized, through sheer force of will, by the man himself,” and decides to strive for that level of self-determination on her own: “This is what I want to be. I want to be a self-made woman. I want to conjure myself out of every sparkling, fast-moving thing I can see. I want to be the creator of myself. I’m going to begat myself.” If those lines are any indication, Feldstein’s Morrigan has the makings of an icon for a new generation of unapologetically ambitious and fiercely self-possessed young women.
Related Topics: Beanie Feldstein