With its reputation out of Sundance and some early positive reviews, I have to admit I was anxious to see the provocatively titled The Diary Of A Teenage Girl, but as I say in my video review, what I found on screen was a disappointment and a bit of a slog to get through.
Based on a sort of well-regarded Phoebe Gloeckner graphic novel about the coming of age – sexually and otherwise – of a 15-year-old girl named Minnie Goetz in post-hippie, free love San Francisco of the 70’s, the film’s writer/director Marielle Heller warmed to the material saying “it feels closer to what it felt like to be a real teenage girl than anything I have ever read.” She uses the word “honest” to describe it. Hmmmm.
The film is a fiercely graphic (indeed) look at Minnie’s (Bel Powley) own poor self image, partially fostered by a drug-taking, man-hungry mother (Kristen Wiig) who does not exactly set a good image for her daughters. It seems mom’s world is not complete without some sort of guy, no matter how dim-witted, to hang around with while she drinks and cavorts with her partying friends. Naturally Minnie is at that curious and awkward age, so she does what any “real teenage girl” would do in this kind of situation and starts a secret affair with her mother’s 30-something BF Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård) as they hop from endless bed scene to endless bed scene. When she’s not doing her Lolita thing with the clueless mom’s current boy toy, she’s with her best friend talking about sex, fantasizing about sex, and even at one point walking around looking like a hooker in training. But at least it’s “honest”.
The film zeroes in on this confused young woman’s own longings which she also keeps in the aforementioned diary of the title, a convenient plot excuse so there can eventually be some dramatic arc to all of this, as well as an opportunity to insert a lot of animated drawings along the way. But I still am not quite sure what the point of all this is meant to be. Is it a scathingly accurate account of teen girls of the period that teen girls of today are supposed to be able to identify with?
The film, which felt sleazy and uncomfortable at times to watch, reminded me more of those Warner Bros. teen slut movies of the 60’s like Susan Slade and Claudelle Inglish, or even more like the early 1980s Jodie Foster flick, Foxes, set shortly after the time in which this movie takes place. I do get the fact that the movies over the years have made tons of films about the sexual obsessions of young teen boys, so maybe this is payback for the girls. But I have to say, and maybe it is just me, this particular period piece didn’t have a single character I wanted to spend more than ten minutes watching, or even cared about. And the 101-minute running time felt much longer due to the repetitive nature of the scenes between Monroe and Minnie, and the slow road to the ultimate confrontation with mom, definitely NOT a candidate for Mother Of The Year.
To her credit Heller doesn’t judge these people, but just allows them to be who they are. Certainly the actors aren’t at fault , and actually Heller could not have cast this thing better. Powley takes command of Minnie and never lets go of the core of this girl, at times even hitting a certain poignancy missing from the rest of the movie. Wiig, quickly becoming the new queen of the dour indie movies, is very good for what she’s asked to do, while Skarsgård is believable as slacker Monroe, a loser who still can be the object of a young girl’s sexual awakening, no matter how repulsive he really is.
Producers are Anne Carey, Bert Hamelinck, Madeline Samit and Miranda Bailey. Sony Pictures Classics sends this out in limited release today, going wider next weekend.
Do you plan to see The Diary Of A Teenage Girl? Let us know what YOU think. Watch my review above.