The under-the-radar Beanie Feldstein movie you don’t want to miss

BY DAN BUFFA, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

Some movies fly under the radar and never find their preferred home, which happens to be the living room of every movie lover. “How to Build a Girl” is a prime example of a very well-made film being overlooked and forgotten about. Sorry, Hollywood pandemic prognosticators, but this one doesn’t fall under that particular excuse umbrella. The Beanie Feldstein-starring film came and went during its release back on Sept. 7, 2019. Its worldwide gross at the box office was a whopping $70,000. 

But the good thing is movies never die; they just run and hide. The indie films, aka small films with big hearts, can do it very well. Everything about “How to Build a Girl” is a little quirky and eccentric but lovable. The director’s name is Coky (Giedroyc), and there are several production companies involved.

The film is its own entity in both look and performance, pulling great character work from Paddy Considine (“The Bourne Supremacy”), Gemma Arterton (a Bond girl in “Quantum of Solace”), Chris O’Dowd (“Bridesmaids”) and Alfie Allen (Theon Greyjoy from HBO’s “Game of Thrones”). Keep an eye out for Emma Thompson. But the film belongs to Feldstein, originally Elizabeth Green “Beanie” Feldstein, a Jewish actress whose dad was a tour accountant for Guns n’ Roses. 

After years of playing the best friend (“Lady Bird”) or co-lead (Olivia Wilde’s “Booksmart”), this was her stepping out into the lead actress spotlight. She owned it within a couple scenes, playing the young Johanna Morrigan, an aspiring writer who doesn’t quite fit in with how society would like. She doesn’t want to just go to school and live a life. Her dream is to professionally write about music, namely British rock stars like John Kite (Allen), whom she adores. Her dad (Considine) is a rock-n-roll wannabe whose album and work never took off. Stuck in a house with a poor family and a persona that isn’t helping her, Johanna reinvents herself as Dolly Wilde — an overnight music critic sensation who also gains popularity for her sexual exploits. Living in one of those small towns where everyone knows each other’s job and marital status, Wolverhampton, Dolly is Johanna’s ticket out, but is that world of rock and lyrics a desirable one for her talents?

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While gaining notoriety for your talent is lovely initially, there always seems to be a disconnect between doing what people prefer and what you want to do. When a glowing review for Kite’s new album puts her in a bad spot and she gets closer to her hero, the limelight doesn’t burn as comfortably for Johanna/Dolly. She starts to resent this new version of herself that is better than the original, but also not ideal. The good thing is the cast makes the material fresh again, especially the leading lady. 

Along with hitting all the signature “young girl becomes a woman and finds her way in life” notes, “How to Build a Girl” could have been renamed “How to Build a Movie for Beanie Feldstein’s talents.” The actress shines her by taking Johanna/Dolly and adding extra juicy details to her personality that convince and make you laugh. When we first meet her, she is shy and unsure of herself. By the midway point, she is ruling over the sleazy men in her profession while taking her desire for Kite more seriously. It’s a total transformation and Feldstein nails it. 

I hope we get to see more of her in these types of roles. Best friend roles are a dime a dozen, so it’s about time someone gives this talented actress the stage space to shine. Thank you, Coky. 

“How to Build a Girl” is available with a subscription on Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, Sling, and Showtime.