The Diary of a Teenage Girl

diary_of_a_teenage_girlSTARS3The Diary of a Teenage Girl is based on the graphic novel of the same name by Phoebe Gloeckner.  The chronicle details the troubled (and troubling) life of young Minnie Goetze, a 15-year-old girl in 1976.  She and her younger sister are raised by their single, bohemian mother Charlotte in San Francisco.  Although the maternal association one has with the word “mother” might not properly convey this frequently dazed, free-spirited hippie.  Perhaps “roommate” is more apropos.  When Minnie’s mother is too busy to go out with her boyfriend Monroe one day, Charlotte spontaneously suggests he take Minnie instead.  Do you see where this is heading? If not, bless your pure heart.  What starts out as an innocent outing develops into a flirtatious exchange.  Beside the fact that he is already dating her mother, that Monroe is 35 should cause considerable shock in any mentally sound human being.

Writer/director Marielle Heller has received a lot of credit for bringing Phoebe Gloeckner’s semi-autobiographical novel to life.  There’s been plenty of praise for the indie coming-of-age story.  The cognoscenti are fond of describing its frank depiction of sexuality as an “honest” meditation on adolescence.  Some have invoked the name of J. D. Salinger.  Given the title, much of the action is presented in voice-over narration to communicate the thoughts and feelings of our title character.  Minnie likes to draw and her style references cartoonist Robert Crumb as well as his future wife Aline Kominsky.  In fact, Minnie admires her so much that Aline occasionally appears in cartoon form to impart wisdom and life lessons.  Minnie also confides in her best friend Kimmie (Madeleine Waters). All of this informs a deep portrait of a life.  She is a young woman on the precipice of burgeoning desire.  Shy and unsure, she doesn’t see herself as beautiful.  Nevertheless, she finds she attracts attention from the opposite sex, without even trying.  This gives her the confidence to assert herself.  She begins to understand how her sexuality influences people.  This coming of age informs the dramatic thrust of the story.

The plot developments are indeed disconcerting.  There’s no justification for a man of 35 and a girl of 15 to engage in this type of relationship.  Let’s be candid, we’re talking about statutory rape.  But strangely, the affair is never presented as predatory or abnormal.  Monroe is such a kind, supportive, almost uplifting presence in her life.  Minnie seems to benefit from his guidance.  She never comes across as a victim, but rather an uninhibited girl with an inquisitive mind…and body.  Their interactions aren’t erotic, but they are empowering for her.  Their connection deepens into something more than physical.  Whether this lack of judgment or comeuppance is something to applaud is certainly questionable.  As her life goes even more completely off the rails, the narrative ultimately finds a moral center within its worldview.  An LSD trip is actually responsible for her moment of clarity.  The account can be disturbing, but it’s so emotionally heartfelt that it never devolves into something exploitative.  23-year-old actress Bel Powley believably portrays young Minnie.  The gossamer nostalgia hearkens backs to tales of growing up like Summer of ’42.  I’ll give it this: the production is an artistically filmed period piece.  It recreates the sensibilities of a faction of people for a particular time and place with perfect authenticity.


11 Responses to “The Diary of a Teenage Girl”

  1. This was one of the stranger relationships I’ve seen in awhile. Good point about Skarsgard’s Monroe being a generally uplifting presence in Minnie’s life, I think that’s what helped keep the story from being truly disturbing. I never quite felt he was a threat. The movie wasn’t about victimization, which it easily could have been. I felt the slightly romantic tone worked in its favor, even if it betrayed the film’s opening forty-ish minutes.


  2. Eric Robert Wilkinson Says:

    Skarsgard continues to show the kind of soft, basic decency (even in a disturbing context like this) that he showed virtually none of on TRUE BLOOD but has been given the opportunity to exhibit in films like MELANCHOLIA and WHAT MAISIE KNEW


  3. Probably one of my least liked films of the year..if not the last few. I found it disturbing – and being at a PGA screening and watching people walk out throughout the something I completely understood. ah well..


  4. I agree completely with your review. Kinda disturbing too. 3 stars. I was glad to hear, the lead actress was really 23. Just needed to know that.


  5. A lot of lists I’ve read make Diary of Teenage Girl seem like essential viewing for this year. Would you agree? Seems like you liked the film and your take on it is very even-handed as usual, but it doesn’t sound like you were quite as enamored with it as some, especially because of its subject matter.


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