Full disclosure: I had high expectations for “Diary of Teenage Girl.” I was excited to a see a film directed by a woman. Also, as a teenage girl currently living in San Francisco, I hoped for this movie to be a personal experience, something that my friends and I could relate to and possibly learn from. Besides my own personal expectations, the movie also received excellent reviews, and a controversial 18+ rating in the UK (our equivalent to NC-17 here in the states). The 18+ rating ironically forbids teenagers of the same age as the protagonist from seeing the movie.“Diary of a Teenage Girl” follows Minnie Goetze (Bel Powley), a 15-year old aspiring cartoonist in 1970s San Francisco. She loses her virginity to an older man named Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård), who also happens to be her mother’s (Kristen Wiig) boyfriend. Minnie keeps a history of her sexual experiences in her diary, which narrates the film and launches us completely into her imaginative world; like any protagonist in a coming of age film, she is struggling with her transition into adulthood.
At the very start of the film Minnie tells the audience that she has just lost her virginity while she is skipping in the park with a satisfied grin on her face. She does this while she looks onto the 1970s San Francisco, filled with naked hippies singing in the park and a large-breasted woman running in a athletic red romper who Minnie comically compares her chest with. This scene alone introduces the type of world that Minnie lives in–one where she is fifteen and only knows how to behave as such and one where she is allowed to become a sexually liberated woman.
Minnie’s relationship with Monroe is when the film suddenly gets disturbing. The reaction of the audience to Monroe’s presence is met with cringes before anything happened between them. He has a habit of treating Minnie like a child, play-fighting with her and calling her “Little Minnie”, before having sex. It’s twisted, but also an extremely important take on what the relationship between an pair with a glaring age difference can be. Minnie does not turn into a sex kitten before her interactions with Monroe, she does not fulfill a Lolita fantasy or even attempt to act older for Monroe’s comfort. She comes as she is, a child who wants to have sex and Monroe chooses to ignore that in exchange for feeling desired. Both of the characters are so transparent in their desires that is painful to see how different they both are and how little Minnie is aware of the fact that they will never meet a common ground for what they both want.
All the characters in the film are transparent which is what makes the movie so good. They are all three dimensional people who we can grimace at and sympathize with all at the same time.
Minnie’s mother Charlotte is perhaps the most heartbreaking result of transparency within the film. She is a broken woman who has had nothing to identify with besides others finding her desireable, so much so that she ignores Minnie’s obviously changing behavior and develops a jealousy for Minnie’s youth. Minnie’s strained relationship with the adults in her life take obvious tolls on her decision making.
Minnie’s ex-stepfather, Pascal (Christopher Meloni), is an insecure intellectual who seems to need validation by constantly criticizing everyone around him constantly–another example of why Minnie would want to be loved by someone so much older than her. Everyone in this film’s universe is insecure and searching for approval in self-destructive ways, but what separates Minnie from the rest of the characters is her ability to be frank about her desires while also be emotionally sensitive to what’s happening to her. Even in her darkest moments she listens to herself when things don’t feel right. This is perhaps the most important part of Minnie’s character, it’s what makes her sexuality, courage, hope and ultimately her fate all her own.
5 out 5 stars
Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures