Review:The Diary of a Teenage Girl
PLOT: A teenager discovers sex and her love for art in San Francisco circa the 1970s when she starts an affair with her mothers boyfriend.
REVIEW: The first time we see fifteen-year-old Minnie Goetze (Bel Powley), she is thrilled to tell the viewer that she has just had sex. And while we know very little about her life, we do know that this isnt going to be your ordinary coming of age drama. And THE DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL is far from typical - there is little in the way of snarky warmheartedness here. It is compelling and off-putting, it is poetic and even heartbreaking. Written and directed by Marielle Hellner - based on the book by Phoebe Gloeckner - there is an honesty that is as fascinating as it is frustrating. We see Minnies world of sexual satisfaction, manipulation, and a frank exploration of the need to be desired, loved and held, and the price that can often come with all of those things.
Minnie is growing up in the late Sixties/early Seventies where free love and drugs were a way of life in San Francisco. The fifteen-year-olds mother Charlotte (Kristen Wiig) can barely hold onto a job or a boyfriend. And Minnies younger sister idolizes her while trying to find her own way through her younger years. And then there is Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård), Charlottes current boyfriend who shares a close relationship with the family. One day, when Monroe decides to go out for a drink, Charlotte convinces him to take Minnie along. After a drowning a few, Monroe and Minnie end up having sex, and the two begin a strange relationship behind her mothers back. Throughout the course of her sexual encounters with the 35-year-old Monroe, Minnie records her adventures on a series of cassette tapes which she keeps hidden. As the two become closer, the blossoming young adult discovers a very enticing world of sex and the need for love.
In her directorial debut, Marielle Heller taps into some pretty taboo material here. Rarely do filmmakers discuss sexuality as clear of judgement as she does here. In fact, according to the press notes, the actress herself played the character in an off-Broadway production. Afterwards she developed the story into THE DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL and brought this brutally honest story to life. As somebody not familiar with the hybrid book/graphic novel/autobiography on which this was based, there is so much here that feels fresh. Sure weve seen the use of animated images put to use in a live action flick, but here it adds an extra layer. Minnie is a young and inspiring comic book artist who often expresses her wants and desires through her art - no this is not nearly as pretentious as it may sound.
As good as the script may be, the London born actress Bel Powley is sensational and brings Minnie to life. It is an exceptionally brave performance. She is perfect as the awkward teenage girl who finds a certain satisfaction in her own sexual awakening. What makes her all the more intriguing is that she is far from a saint. She can be sweet, innocent, manipulative and sometimes downright awful. This is a portrait of a teenager that is closer to Todd Solondz WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE as opposed to your typical cinematic teen angsty experience. In fact, it wouldnt surprise me to see Dawn Wiener take on the life that Minnie Goetze is seeking out.
As for the rest of the cast, one of the most challenging roles here may very well be Monroe. Alexander Skarsgård is quite good, and it helps that Hellner does not create him as a villain - although it may be difficult for many a viewer to not see him as such. It is not the most sympathetic role for sure, but he is surprisingly kindhearted and warm as Minnie and Charlottes love interest. As a mother that lacks a ton of motherly skills, Wiig once again proves to be the real deal. The generally comedic actress is proving time and again what an incredible talent she has for creating richly flawed dramatic characters. Really all the performances work, even the younger sister Gretel (played by Abby Wait) and the high school boyfriend Ricky Wasserman (Austin Lyon), each one adding strong support to Powley.
THE DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL is a tough watch at times. It is open about its approach to sexuality and it doesnt shy away from its likely controversial subject matter. Credit must be given to the care and honest conversation piece that Heller has crafted. Thankfully, the director seems just as content to find humor in the situation - even when Minnie cant. This is the kind of film that will not necessarily be a crowdpleaser in the traditional sense. Thankfully however it is a convincingly honest portrait that isnt afraid to delve into some very serious material. One thing is for sure, both Heller and Powley - along with help of author Phoebe Gloeckner - have given audiences one of the most fascinating teenage characters this year. It may not be for everybody, but those willing to take on a challenging teen flick may want to invest in this Diary.