September 25, 2015 - Film
Film Review | The Diary of a Teenage Girl
Made to F—
“I had sex today. Holy shit.” The first line uttered in Marielle Heller’s film, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, quickly sums up its premise. Minnie Goetze, a wide-eyed girl with thin lips and a globe-shaped face, struts through 1976 San Francisco having just lost her virginity. Minnie dreams only of sex. She uses her unique drawing skills to bring her intricate fantasies to life. Comics and graphic novel-like imagery enhance Minnnie’s lonely existence as if she were wearing Google Glass for the artist’s eye. A loosely drawn penis pops out of a stranger’s pants. Pink throbbing hearts swim through the waters of a murky bathtub. Monroe, her mother’s boyfriend, fills the pages of Minnie’s notebook to confess his longing for her pubescent body.
It doesn’t take long for Minnie (Bel Powley) and Monroe (Alexander Skarsguard) to begin their devious sexual relationship. With few obstacles, they’re able to explore the nuances of cross-generational love relatively uninhibited. Minnie’s absentee mother (Kristen Wiig) prefers to sleep through reality. Minnie must face the path to womanhood alone, learning godless tricks from two self-loathing so-called adults. It’s easy to see why Minnie so desperately craves affection. Sex becomes her only confidant, the sole reason for her existence. As painful, honest and realistic as it may be, Minnie’s journey suffers from ordinariness. The themes resonate with humanizing emotion and yet, never go beyond the expected.
As a natural movie star, Bel Powley plays Minnie to subtle extremes. She can turn a lingering smile or an impromptu touch into a minefield of anxiety and unreserved longing. Inner thoughts and voiceover narration have become a staple of the high school dramedy with Alicia Silverstone’s Clueless and Emma Stone’s Easy A immediately coming to mind. Yet, Minnie’s words do little to clarify her intentions or add to the plot. She doesn’t understand why she feels compelled to take such risks, looking for love in the worst places imaginable. Instead, her voiceover adds a dose of familiar humor to this otherwise painful story of female adolescence gone wrong.
Rounding out the cast, Skarsguard makes a compelling wolf to Powley’s lamb. He exhibits no remorse as he two-faces mother and daughter. As for Wiig, the film wastes her comedic charm, delegating her to half-conscious one-liners and endless drunken swaying. She gracefully plays the part for all its worth, but falls short as a mother figure in more ways than one. Christopher Meloni makes a brief appearance as Minnie’s estranged father. Posing as the reincarnation of Freud himself, Meloni turns a blind eye to the repercussions of his family’s lawless lifestyle. Sexy parties, hard drug use and juvenile covetousness eat away at the film’s emotional core. Life in 1976 San Francisco was apparently too much to bear. This groovy party feels anything but.
Beyond any doubt, Diary redeems itself with Bel Powley’s evocative performance. She never shies away from Minnie’s most vulnerable, visceral instincts, plunging herself wholly into her toxic relationship with Monroe. Hopefully, Hollywood will take advantage of her talents in the years to come. The young actress deserves a place among Cybill Shepard in The Last Picture Show, Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver or Sissy Spacek in Badlands. Like her predecessors, Powley manages to transcend impish naivety to explore the truth depths of a young woman’s remorse.
Overall, it’s difficult to berate a film that devotes itself entirely to a young woman’s burgeoning sexuality. Heller confirms her talents as a director, delicately balancing an unbiased picture of inappropriate love. She commands the material with a level of confidence on par with Kubrick when he cracked open Nabokov’s Lolita. With a little luck, the future holds more films like Diary: by, about and in praise of women.
The Diary of a Teenage Girl is now playing in select theaters.
By. Steven Briggs