The Diary of a Teenage Girl | Rating: 10/11 |
Based on the graphic novel The Diary of a Teenage Girl: An Account in Words and Pictures by Phoebe Gloeckner, writer and director Marielle Heller’s cinematic take on the novel is surprisingly refreshing. In the first few minutes of the film, this coming-of-age story takes its audience back to 1976 San Francisco, where 15-year-old Minnie Goetze (Bel Powley) proudly announces that “she just had sex. Holy shit.” From that point on, Heller asks her audience not to judge Minnie, her hard-partying mother Charlotte (Kristen Wiig) who is stuck in a perpetual state of adolescent or her mother’s boyfriend, Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård) who begins an affair with Minnie. Despite all of the drugs, sex and parties, Heller solely focuses on Minnie’s sexual awakening and how she comes to terms with what truly can make her happy.
Powley, who was in her early 20s when the film was made, actually does resemble a teenager and perfectly portrays one. She uses her wide, almost Disney princess-like blue eyes to her advantage as she muses about her life into her tape recorder or when she first seduces Monroe. She flashes a maniacal Cheshire cat smile and delivers the types of insecurities and thoughts that teenage girls have. While watching Powley, it’s hard to remember that she wasn’t a teenager when she played the role. Minnie’s friend Kimmie (Madeline Waters) perfectly matches her in teenage confusion, as one moment Kimmie listens to Minnie’s confusion over her affair and the next proclaims that she should straighten her hair.
Skarsgård portrayal of Monroe comes across as more of a Patrick Wilson-esque character than his usual character type in that it’s hard to fully embrace him as a villain. Monroe is certainly manipulative, yet clearly lost himself telling Minnie of his dream to one day own a boat and sail across the world. It’s also difficult to fully judge Minnie’s mother, Charlotte, even though she tells her daughter that she “was quite a piece when I was your age” and sends her daughter to a bar with her boyfriend. Charlotte doesn’t quite know how to be a mother, and since she has separated from her latest husband, doesn’t quite know how to live on her own.
Since Minnie aspires to be a cartoonist, the film carefully incorporates alternative cartoons — there are moments where flowers surround Minnie when she is in love or when her favorite cartoonist Aline Kominsky-Crumb materializes to offer Minnie some much needed advice. It’s rare to see a film that consciously (and successfully) incorporates animated sequences into live action, but The Diary of a Teenage Girl more than succeeds.
The film’s blu-ray comes with a variety of special features, including a Q&A with the cast from the LA Film Festival that is quite enlightening, a commentary with the cast and Heller herself plus some deleted scenes. The special features help to explain how The Diary of a Teenage Girl came to be adapted into the viscerally striking film that it is today.
While all of the performances in The Diary of a Teenage Girl are impressive, the film truly belongs to Powley. She brings the heart and soul to Minnie, who tells her own tale through her own unique voice. More importantly, this film, as a whole, reminds its audience that we all have our own unique coming-of-age story and no matter how uncouth it is, it is up to us to decide how we want to grow up.