The Diary of a Teenage Girl

Directed by Marielle Heller
Starring Bel Powley, Alexander Skarsgard, Kristen Wiig, Madeleine Waters and Christopher Meloni
On UK DVD January 11th, 2016

by Joanna Orland

Adapted from Phoebe Gloeckner’s mostly autobiographical novel, director Marielle Heller’s debut feature is a brutally honest and empowering examination of a 15-year-old girl discovering her sexuality. While teenage sexual discovery is the main subject matter of this film, it is never exploitative even in its more shocking content. Tastefully done, The Diary of a Teenage Girl has a raw honesty to it that perfectly captures what most normal teenage girls go through at least emotionally if not physically.

Minnie (Powley) introduces herself to the audience by proclaiming “I’ve just had sex! Holy shit!” as she dictates her audio diary to cassette tape. The story then rewinds to her loss of virginity to Monroe (Skarsgard) who is not only twenty years older than Minnie, but who is also the boyfriend of her mom Charlotte (Wiig). The relationship between Minnie and Monroe is a complex one and not merely one of an older man taking advantage of a naive teenager. The film draws comparisons to the story of Patty Hearst with Minnie often questioning how a woman could fall in love with her captors, much as Minnie has done with the manipulative Monroe. The story is not a victim’s story, but one of self-discovery as Minnie is using her powers over Monroe as much as he is using his over her. Minnie’s time with Monroe, while extremely sinister in its overtones, leads to her self-empowerment and sets her on her path to sexual discovery.

In spite of the start of her journey being an inappropriate liaison with her mother’s older boyfriend, much of Minnie’s story is about female empowerment and how a woman should be free to explore and own her sexuality, as well as how it also intimidates males when she does. In spite of her adventuress sexual nature, Minnie is not immune to the typical insecurities of every teenage girl, and even questions some of her behaviour as being weird and creepy.

Minnie has a complicated relationship with her less-than-attentive mother and some serious daddy issues with the closest thing she has to a father being her former stepfather Pascal (Meloni), who tries his best to still be a father figure to Minnie and her sister in spite of having moved to the other side of the country. But daddy issues aren’t the main cause of her sexual neediness as even Pascal has noticed how Minnie’s need for affection from her mother resonates an overt sexuality to it. Minnie is a sexual female discovering herself at the price of others, and at risk to herself.

On her journey of sexual discovery, Minnie also explores the difference between sex and love. Her main desire for sex is to feel wanted, needed, loved. She confuses her physicality and emotions in her familial relationships, her friendship with Kimmie (Waters) and sexual encounters with Monroe and otherwise. Learning some of her behaviour from her mother, Minnie is even more confused than other teenagers about this separation of sex and love, craving love while chasing sex. Her behaviour becomes even more self-destructive as she’s not only keeping her affair with Monroe a secret, finding herself in dangerous sexual situations with strangers which border on prostitution, but Minnie is also heightening her self-destructiveness through recreational drug use; all for documentation in her audio diary.

The character study of a teenage girl and the narrative arc are brave and engaging, but the performances and filmmaking style of The Diary of a Teenage Girl make this piece a standout amongst the rest. The performances are outstanding – Powley brings a wide-eyed innocence and hunger to Minnie, while Wiig fitting her role of her mother perfectly. Skarsgard is perfectly cast as Monroe, coming across as almost innocent in spite of his reckless and deplorable acts. Set in 1970’s San Francisco, the film captures the era naturalistically without being gawkish. The use of cartoon imagery enhances the visual allure of the film and adds another dimension to Minnie and her wants and needs.

An unabashed exploration of female sexuality at a young age, The Diary of a Teenage Girl is filmmaking at its most honest.


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