Not just another chick flick…
When a film starts with the line “I had sex today. Holy shit!” we have to expect that we are about to experience a tale of sexual awakening. Having done no research on the film before I viewed it, I heard these words from the mouth of bell-bottom-jean and wedge-shoe clad Minnie Goetze, the films fifteen year old lead character (Played by the delightfully unreserved Bel Powley, previously found on ITV’s Benidorm) and I sat back in my seat, thinking; “Oh, a chick flick. Right,” A chick flick told in an indie, art house style, and set in the 1970s. Fair enough.
But no. I was very wrong. There is a risk of stereotyping this film and comparing it to common coming of age clichés which admittedly have previously been too taboo to portray this candidly on screen, and this no doubt contributes to the films R rating. However the strength of the story, how it is told for screen, and the talent in the acting would be diminished if I only summarised The Diary of a Teenage Girl as an edgy portrayal of a teenage girl’s sexual awakening.
On that note, it’s certainly not all teenage fun and flowery animation moments as the previews project it to be. Immediately disturbing is the fact that Minnie’s sexual awakening comes by way of her mother’s thirty-five year old boyfriend, Munroe (played by Alexander Skarsgård, of True Blood fame). The storytelling here is complex, and dare I say that we are left feeling for Skarsgård’s cradle-snatcher, just as we feel for Minnie herself at the centre of the story. All the while Minnie records her experiences explicitly, in diary format on a good old fashioned tape recorder; ergo the name of the film and the perfect setting for a terrible failure. Every teenage girl must come to learn the perils of recording their experiences in a diary, let’s face it.
But the story is so good that we almost forget those naughty little tapes are hidden in a shoe box under her bed. The film is laced with moments that are cringe worthy, and moments that are awkwardly arousing, and they all work to balance out the comedy and the serious side to the drama. As Minnie romps through her days, exploring her new found passions and engaging in very naked sex in many different ways, we almost forget she is only fifteen until her play fighting or petulant behaviour reminds us. Her recorded dialogue also remains strongly that of a fifteen year old mind. Initially she believes Munroe is her one and only chance in life to have sex, and when that knowledge passes, she questions other typical scenarios, her lack of beauty, her weight, her confusion over what love means and whether she loves Munroe, and does Munroe love her? Could he love her? It is all painfully real.
Minnie’s descent into a drugged up teenage runaway felt natural in its progression, thanks to the brilliant acting it was subtly clear to see how the adults who influence her life and the environment she has been brought up in pave the way for her actions. The insecurities of her mother, who believes all the power she has lies in maintaining her sex appeal (played with expected excellence by Kirsten Wiig); an estranged step father (played by Christopher Meloni) who cannot handle that he has no rights with regard to the children he brought up; and the mother’s boyfriend Munroe who is perhaps understandably enthralled by the attentions of fifteen year old Minnie. When he does try to break it off, Minnie’s ability to manipulate is typically adolescent, and while we know that we shouldn’t feel for Munroe, the fallible nature of humanity in all of us does.
Experiencing the story from Minnie’s point of view, we don’t at any stage feel that she is a victim, which is a tribute to debut director Merielle Heller’s talent. We may understand that she is the victim, but her personality and spirit in taking control of her situation is both amusing and inspiring, and while films that deal with these themes normally centre around the tragedy or loss of innocence, this is not at all the message we are left with. Minnie’s story is empowering and redemptive. We watch her fall, and we watch her get back on her feet, and although each of the components which make this tale would have perhaps been too much if they were considered separate from each other, they are brought together flawlessly through expert storytelling. We leave wiser, older, and more aware.
The Diary of a Teenage Girl is essentially a raw and edgy coming of age film, with beautiful moments of indie styled animation and a story that keeps the audience captivated from beginning to end. It is a thought provoking piece of American cinema with great entertainment value that is absolutely worth the watch, because after all, we were all fifteen once.
Staring: Bel Powley, Alexander Skarsgård, Kirsten Wiig.
Writers: Phoebe Gloeckner (novel), Mariella Heller (screenplay).
Director: Marielle Heller
The Diary of a Teenage Girl is in cinemas now.
By Article by J R Manawa