Be prepared to look back and reminisce at all those awkward and embarrassing moments from your teenage years.
Don’t be fooled into thinking The Diary of a Teenage Girl is just another teenage sitcom drama. This directorial debut from Marielle Heller packs so much more in than you could ever imagine.
Set in 1976 San Francisco, The Diary of a Teenage Girl follows 15 year old Minnie Goetze as she prematurely enters into an explicit world of adulthood. The film centres around Minnie’s desire for love and to feel the loving touch of another human being. Thrilled and fascinated by her mother’s boyfriend, Munroe who is 20 years her senior, Minnie willingly pushes the boundaries of their relationship. With her attempt at seducing Munroe, Minnie opens up a can of worms which takes her further down the rabbit hole. As the relationship between Minnie and Munroe develops the feeling of awkwardness soon turns into sympathy as it becomes clear that Munroe isn’t a predator or a monster, but that the feelings between the two of them are sincere and it’s then you begin to understand the complexity of their situation.Actress Marielle Heller wrote and directed The Diary of a Teenage Girl which is adapted from Phoebe Gloeckner’s acclaimed 2002 graphic novel of the same title. Heller previously adapted the book for the stage back in 2010 and played the lead role of Minnie herself. Having had first hand experience at tapping into the psyche of Minnie, the screen adaptation is unquestionably filmed through a female perspective. Shot on location over twenty four days in San Francisco, Heller made use of family and friends in order to get the film made. Having used a selection of music authentic to the 70s, Heller then relied on her brother to compose the rest of the music, taking influences from various places in order to create something specifically for this film.
As the film is based on a graphic novel, it does contain some animated sequences which were done by Icelandic animator Sara Gunnarsdottir. Remaining true to the era in which the film is set, these sequences are bright and colourful and reminiscent of the hippie culture. Heller manages to combine the animation with the film so that it doesn’t feel invasive or interrupt the flow but instead feels like Minnie’s subconscious thoughts coming to life. Through enhancing earthy tones like browns and yellows, Heller manages to make The Diary of a Teenage Girl convincingly feel as though it is set in the 1970s. From the decor to the costumes and mind set of the characters it does feel like you’ve taken a step back in time and woken up in the hippie come punk era.
Growing up with just her mother, Charlotte, Minnie finds herself exposed to her party hard lifestyle, which includes drinking and drug taking as well as her free spirited and sort of feminist ideas. Without any stable adult role models Minnie is left to fend for herself and fight her way through the difficult teenage years. As an aspiring artist, Minnie finds relief through her art which acts as an escape from the confusing world in front of her. Instead of writing in an actual diary, Minnie uses a tape recorder to document her life which acts wonderfully as a bridge to Minnie’s internal thoughts through voice overs which are used throughout the film.
British actress Bel Powley plays the part of teenage Minnie superbly and physically is the perfect fit for this character as she convincingly looks like a 15 year old in the film. Powley manages to tap into something so powerful when playing Minnie, from the way she slouches and drags her feet as she walks to the way she speaks her mind, which is so inappropriate but utterly appropriate for the character. Even with all the nudity and sexual escapades there is never an element of sordidness felt. Powley may not be ‘classically’ beautiful but with her big eyes which ooze innocence Powley is captivating and beautiful in her own way. Powley explores Minnie’s world with an eagerness and curiosity you would expect from a teenager and I would imagine this film will be the gateway film of Powley’s future success.
Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty) plays Minnie’s mother, Charlotte, who appears to either be drunk or high throughout most of the film. Charlotte tries to be a good mother, but also maintain her freedom which comes at the expense of both her daughters. Charlotte had Minnie when she was 16 years old and as a result has remained in the emotional mind set of a teenager ever since. Refusing to relinquish the partying, Charlotte is in no way a responsible mother to Minnie. Wiig is brilliant in this role as the glamorous mother trying to embed all the wrong life lessons onto her daughter. There are a few scenes in which Charlotte remains emotionally stilted, unsure of how to act or react to the situation and it’s in these scenes we see Wiig’s talent come to the fore.
Everything works together perfectly in The Diary of a Teenage Girl - Heller has really set the bar high for herself.
Minnie’s love interest Munroe is played by Alexander Skarsgård (What Maisie Knew, True Blood). Playing the part of a 35 year old man, Munroe is shown more to be like that of a teenager, seen watching children’s TV and eating cereal in the mid afternoon. Skarsgård’s depiction of a man conflicted about his feelings for a 15 year old girl is touching as it becomes apparent that there really is an emotional depth and he is clearly struggling to come to terms with it as he knows it’s wrong but he has genuine feelings for Minnie. Skarsgård plays the part of Munroe without coming across as intimidating and instead plays it more with a delicacy and immaturity which is endearing. The chemistry between Powley and Skarsgård on screen is intense and magnetic which really aids to the film’s believability.
The rest of the supporting cast are all brilliant, from Abby Wait who plays Minnie’s irritating younger sister Gretal to Christopher Meloni who plays Pascal, Gretal and Minnie’s step father, who believes his intellect places himself above everyone. Pascal is seemingly the only responsible adult in Minnie’s life and the only adult who can see that there is more to Minnie that what everyone else sees, however he is rarely in the picture and when he is, it’s on his terms.
Though the film does contain some sensitive material, it does so with compassion and a sensitivity in favour of Minnie that removes any element that could feel seedy or exploitive. Filmed in a manner which does not glamourise or overtly sexualise it, the frequent nudity and sex scenes feel more like briefly peering through the mind and eyes of a curious teenager. Rated 18 the film itself is not intended for audiences the same age as Minnie but more towards an older generation who can look back on their awkward and embarrassing teenage years in order to relate to Minnie’s experimental adventures.
There are various morals that are called into question within this film, from underage sex to drug taking, but it’s all handled in such a naturalistic manner that it doesn’t feel remotely out of place. Whether it’s because of the era in which the film is set, a supposedly sexually liberal and drug accepting 70s or the wonderfully crafted script blended perfectly with the graphic novel, I’m not sure, but whatever it is, it works. Without wanting to sound like a cliché, The Diary of a Teenage Girl is a refreshing take on what it feels like for a young girl growing up. This film doesn’t have a lesson at the end of it nor does it ostracise the protagonist for making mistakes, it simply showcases the ups and downs of growing up. Refusing to shy away from the honest truth, Heller’s film embraces teenage-dom and puts it all out there in an unabashed and unashamedly open manner.
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