A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Importance of staying true to yourself, not selling out to fit in. Themes of self-sufficiency, confidence, integrity are central. Some acts of selfishness, as well as references to weight and class.
Positive Role Models
Johanna is initially portrayed as sweet and naive, but quickly learns that sarcasm and bad behavior get her more attention. Male music journalists are seen as sexist, sometimes cruel. At home, Johanna's father is supportive but tries to leverage her success to boost his own, while her mother is dissociated and absent, which is blamed on postnatal depression.
Violence & Scariness
A character is hit with a book. Instances of verbal bullying, sexual harassment in the workplace. Mention of shooting a snail with an air rifle. "Rape" is used in reference to bad music "raping the ears." Remark about being kicked in the testicles. Discussion of death of a parent, suicide, overdoses. An on-screen suicide attempt involving a compass in which small cuts are shown. A gun is shot from a building. A trash can is set alight.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Sexual intercourse is depicted on-screen numerous times -- including some nudity from behind -- as is kissing and masturbation. Same-sex kissing. Periods are mentioned and a used sanitary product shown. Talk of sexual positions, orgasms, oral sex, breasts, penises, hymens, losing virginity.
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Frequent strong language includes variants of "f--k," along with "s--t," "bulls--t," "d--k," "bastard," "a--hole," "twat," "bitch," "frigging," "arse," and "bloody." Other language includes "demented," "balls," "bone," and "jail bait." Homophobic references in "lezza" and "puffy."
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Products & Purchases
Main character buys things for their family when they begin to make money, but specific brands are not referenced other than a brief mention of Guinness.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Characters regularly smoke cigarettes. Alcohol -- Guinness, whiskey, beer, gin, and wine -- is consumed in bars, offices, hotel rooms, outside, at home. Characters are seen to be drunk. Mention of alcoholism and drugs.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that How to Build a Girl is an edgy teen coming-of-age comedy based on Caitlin Moran's semi-autobiographical novel about a 16-year-old girl who dreams of a career as a writer. It has tons of strong language, as well as sexual acts and references. As she journeys toward self-realization, Johanna Morrigan (Beanie Feldstein) is thrown into a world more mature than her years. Her behavior goes off the rails: She stays out on school nights, plays truant, drinks, explores her sexuality, and is rude to her parents and cruel to others in order to get ahead. Expect very frequent use of "f--k," plus scenes of simulated sex and masturbation, an on-screen suicide attempt, and a scene involving bailiffs removing possessions from the family home. Topics such as the death of a parent, suicide, alcoholism, mental health issues, and sexism are discussed in mature ways. There are also jokes at the expense of a character's weight and class, as well as homophobic language. All of that said, Johanna will be relatable to many teens, and the film includes a lot of humor to keep it light, even as its message hits home. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
Transporting you back to the 1990s, this movie brings to life the monotony of the teenage experience in vast contrast to the excesses of a thriving music scene. How to Build a Girl is adapted from British writer Caitlin Moran's bestselling novel based on her own experiences as a young music journalist. It's quirky, with director Coky Giedroyc adding some fun visual touches, such as the icons on Johanna's wall -- including Sylvia Plath, Julie Andrews, Sigmund Freud, and Karl Marx -- coming to life to converse with the troubled teen. These enable fabulous cameo appearances from the likes of Michael Sheen and Gemma Arterton, while Emma Thompson plays Johanna's editor, Amanda.
Though her experience is extraordinary, the character of Johanna is relatable, if a little one-dimensional. American Feldstein doesn't do badly with the British regional accent. But she doesn't quite breathe the life into the character that she's managed in previous films -- notably Booksmart. However, How to Build a Girl is raw and funny in places, and the audience remains on Johanna's side, even as she turns to the dark one herself. Overall, this is a light but heartfelt coming-of-age comedy that teens will both relate to and, in some places -- possibly the wrong ones -- aspire to.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.