How To Build A Girl (Amazon Prime Video, 15)

Rating:

Verdict: Determinedly quirky

Stage Mother (cinemas nationwide, 15)

Rating:

Verdict: Cliche-ridden and predictable

That Feldstein does convince is credit to her hard work tackling the dialect, which by all accounts included a couple of weeks working anonymously in a Wolverhampton gift shop

That Feldstein does convince is credit to her hard work tackling the dialect, which by all accounts included a couple of weeks working anonymously in a Wolverhampton gift shop

That Feldstein does convince is credit to her hard work tackling the dialect, which by all accounts included a couple of weeks working anonymously in a Wolverhampton gift shop

Even though she turned 27 a month ago today, the actress Beanie Feldstein can pass for a decade or more younger, which is one reason why she keeps being cast in coming-of-age films such as Lady Bird (2017) and last year’s Booksmart.

All the same, she was a bold choice to play Johanna Morrigan, the lead character in How To Build A Girl, which is based on the journalist Caitlin Moran’s semi-autobiographical novel of the same name.

Moran (who also wrote the screenplay) grew up in Wolverhampton, Feldstein in Los Angeles. And while we’re used to actors bridging that transatlantic divide in both directions, I’m struggling to think of anyone quite so Californian who’s ever had to convince us they’re the product of a Black Country council estate before.

I wish I could say Tom Hanks as Noddy Holder in the Slade biopic, but regrettably it hasn’t happened. Yet.

That Feldstein does convince is credit to her hard work tackling the dialect, which by all accounts included a couple of weeks working anonymously in a Wolverhampton gift shop. 

In truth, she doesn’t always quite nail it, but she’s no Dick Van Dyke. The accent is close enough, and in a way it also helps that Johanna’s personal horizons stretch well beyond Dudley and even Kidderminster.

She wants to grow up to be a woman of the world, a writer. In an area once famous for its industrial furnaces (an awful lot of soot, hence the Black Country), her lively imagination is stoked by pictures of role models on her bedroom wall, all of whom come alive to offer her guidance.

Moran and director Coky Giedroyc have plenty of fun with this. Michael Sheen plays Sigmund Freud, with Lily Allen as Elizabeth Taylor; Alexei Sayle as Karl Marx; Gemma Arterton as Maria Von Trapp; and as a couple of Brontes, Sue Perkins and the director’s sister Mel Giedroyc.

Inconveniently for Johanna, reality intervenes all too often, in the form of numerous siblings, her amiable but feckless dreamer of a father (Paddy Considine), a mother (Sarah Solemani) worn out by too much childcare (‘I’d kill the last panda on earth for a bit of shut-eye’), and the school bullies obligatory in all coming-of-age movies.

In an area once famous for its industrial furnaces (an awful lot of soot, hence the Black Country), her lively imagination is stoked by pictures of role models on her bedroom wall, all of whom come alive to offer her guidance

Eventually, she finds her way to London, having written to a music magazine — a thinly disguised NME — offering to contribute reviews.

The odds are strongly stacked against her. She’s only 16, the mag is run by misogynists, and she knows so little about music that she’s barely aware of The Rolling Stones.

But she powers on with charisma and chutzpah, dyeing her hair red, reinventing herself as Dolly Wilde and even becoming the protegee of a rock star (Alfie Allen) with whom she falls hopelessly in love.

She gets a column, acquires groupies of her own and becomes known for her caustic one-liners … not that I, personally, can forgive Dolly, or Johanna, or Moran, or whoever was responsible for ‘Joni Mitchell has the voice of an angel and the face of a Grand National winner’, but never mind.

With fleeting roles for Emma Thompson and Chris O’Dowd, there is no shortage of star wattage here (I can tell you, by the way, that Wolverhampton’s city motto is ‘out of darkness cometh light’, which seems an apt slogan for this film, and is also why Wolverhampton Wanderers FC wear colours of black and gold).

But it’s Feldstein’s show, and although at times How To Build A Girl is just too determinedly quirky, she really couldn’t be a more engaging lead. 

Stage Mother has another strong female lead, and features another transoceanic accent hop, but alas this ‘bittersweet’ comedy about the director of a Baptist church choir in small-town Texas (played by the excellent Australian actress Jacki Weaver) who inherits her late, estranged son’s drag club in San Francisco, is mostly a dud.

It’s the sort of attempted crowd-pleaser we Brits tend to do much better; I’m thinking of The Full Monty, Pride, Calendar Girls, Billy Elliot and the recent Military Wives.

Or maybe it’s just not very well-written, which makes a tried-and-tested formula look terribly stale.

Unhelpfully, there’s also some desperately clunky acting and a thudding predictability about every narrative twist that makes it fun to watch only if you like to beat characters to their own lines.

It¿s the sort of attempted crowd-pleaser we Brits tend to do much better; I¿m thinking of The Full Monty, Pride, Calendar Girls, Billy Elliot and the recent Military Wives

It¿s the sort of attempted crowd-pleaser we Brits tend to do much better; I¿m thinking of The Full Monty, Pride, Calendar Girls, Billy Elliot and the recent Military Wives

It’s the sort of attempted crowd-pleaser we Brits tend to do much better; I’m thinking of The Full Monty, Pride, Calendar Girls, Billy Elliot and the recent Military Wives

Mafia biopic is a film tip you can’t refuse

The Traitor (cinemas nationwide, 15)

Rating:

Verdict: Compelling — and true

This Italian-language film about the Cosa Nostra (the term ‘mafia’, insists the lead character, is a media construct) begins a little like The Godfather, with mutterings and machinations while others dance at a party.

But where Don Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 masterpiece refused to get involved in drugs, here the gangsters are grappling for control of the lucrative heroin trade, leading to an all-out war between two families. Eventually, the head of one family, arrested by the police, blows the whistle on his former associates.

What makes all this even more compelling is that it’s true. Tommaso Buscetta (Pierfrancesco Favino) was a high-ranking Sicilian mobster who was caught while lying low in Brazil and extradited to Rome, where he became a valuable informant. 

In return for information which led to no fewer than 366 arrests, he was given his freedom.

There are some unforgettable images in Marco Bellocchio’s powerful film, which flits back and forth between the early 1970s and 2000. It’s long — more than two-and-a-half hours — but if you’re a fan of films about organised crime, let’s call this a recommendation you can’t refuse.

Revenge, romance, and a tragi-comedy

Here is the second reverse-order instalment in my list of favourite foreign-language films. Thank you for your continuing feedback, both by post and at filmclassics@dailymail.co.uk.

15 Wild Tales (2014)

This wickedly hilarious Argentinian film is divided into six chapters, all unconnected except for the common theme of revenge. In one, a random case of road rage ends up in a fight to the death. In another, a bride makes her new husband pay for his infidelity. Wonderful stuff.

14 Jules And Jim (1962)

Francois Truffaut’s masterpiece, about a love triangle beginning in Paris shortly before WWI, features Jeanne Moreau at her most beguiling. It is one of the finest examples of French New Wave cinema that so influenced Hollywood and helped to shape Arthur Penn’s 1967 classic Bonnie And Clyde, as well as 1991’s Thelma And Louise.

Love triangle: Jules And Jim

Love triangle: Jules And Jim

Love triangle: Jules And Jim

13 Cold War (2018)

Exquisitely shot in black and white, and an impressively taut 88 minutes long, Cold War is a gripping drama about a love affair which unfolds over several decades in post-war Europe. 

The great Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski would surely have landed an Oscar in any other year — but his marvellous film was up against Alfonso Cuaron’s mighty (if slightly over-praised) Roma.

12 Life Is Beautiful (1997)

Not everyone loved Roberto Benigni’s bold concentration camp comedy about a Jewish inmate who shields his son from the horrors of Nazism by pretending it’s all a game — but it made me laugh (and for that matter cry) like a drain. If you want to smile, take a look on YouTube at the moment Sophia Loren, at the Academy Awards, announces it as Best Foreign Language Film. It’s priceless.

11 Cinema Paradiso (1988)

This is unashamedly sentimental and perhaps overly long, but it’s a film of such enormous charm that you can forgive it all its excesses. 

There’s a lovely performance by little Salvatore Cascio as the young version of Toto, who grows up to become a famous film director after a childhood spent in thrall to a small-town cinema and its ageing projectionist. An enduring delight.

Source: Daily Mail | BBC News & Gossip

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