The 400-Word Review: Diary of a Teenage Girl
By Sean Collier
August 26, 2015
Will you enjoy The Diary of a Teenage Girl? That depends on how uncomfortable you are made by this sentence: The movie’s focus is a sexual relationship between a 34-year-old man and a 15-year-old girl.
If you would consider yourself shocked and/or stunned right now, let a four-word review suffice: You won’t have fun.
Not that anyone should be particularly tolerant of such a relationship; In most modern cultures, that’d be considered pedophilia, and in many, it’d be considered rape. To be clear, the film certainly doesn’t present the relationship as a net positive for anyone involved. But the ’70s-set Diary does require viewers to consider this relationship as more complex than simply that of an exploiter and a victim.
Minnie Goetze (Bel Powley — who, it should be clarified, was a young-looking 21-year-old at the time of filming) is a smart introvert eager for sexual experience. She is alternately fussed over, neglected and offered booze by her hard-partying mother, Charlotte (Kristen Wiig), who is dating the dashing ne’er-do-well Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård). When Charlotte suggests that Monroe take Minnie out for drinks, playfulness turns to flirtation — and swiftly to sex.
So commences Minnie’s entry into a world she believes herself to be primed for. After all, her dunce of a mother can handle drugs, booze and a certain free-love attitude, so why can’t Minnie? Armed with the perceived self-wisdom of any smart teen, Minnie finds herself slipping farther into the darker edges of the San Francisco underworld.
Diary of a Teenage Girl is based on a graphic novel by Phoebe Gloeckner, and Minnie is in turn fixated by comic artists; when she’s clear-headed enough to harbor ambitions, they are of becoming a cartoonist. These urges lead to striking animated sequences that give Diary periodic bursts of color and humor.
Little adornment was necessary, however; the powerhouse performance by Powley turns Diary into a one-woman show. To be clear, Marielle Heller’s direction (and adaptation of the source material) is quite good, and Brandon Trost’s slightly-sepia photography is used to great effect. But Powley is a tornado, captivating the attention of the audience and her co-stars alike; there are moments when one can almost see Wiig and Skarsgård reeling at Powley’s talent. It’s a bold, memorable performance that should launch a career and — for those that can accept the premise — makes Diary of a Teenage Girl required viewing.
My Rating: 9/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark