It’s one of the year’s best films. “The Diary of a Teenage Girl” is daring, honest, and (coming from a 50-year-old that remembers a good part of the 1970’s decade) amazingly authentic. Bel Powley is fantastic as 15-year-old aspiring cartoonist, Minnie Goetze, and Kristen Wiig is so incredible as her mother, Charlotte–that I didn’t realize it was her until the end credits rolled. The film refuses to make you feel comfortable, with its frank sexuality, abundant nudity, and ample drug usage in scenes. I admire its bravery, and debuting writer/director Marielle Heller never shies away from its electrically charged subject matter. It’s great filmmaking.
In 1976 San Francisco, teenage girl Minnie (Ms. Powley) decides to keep an audio diary of her burgeoning sexuality. Thinking herself chubby and unattractive, she longs to lose her virginity when she starts getting attention from male classmates. Living with her divorced bohemian mother, Charlotte (Ms. Wiig), and younger sister, Gretel (Abigail Wait), high school age Minnie begins flirting with, and eventually having an affair with, her mom’s 35-year-old boyfriend, Monroe (a perfectly slimy, Alexander Skarsgard). She rapidly falls in love with him, and obsesses over him for a period–but before long, she feels Monroe is not enough. Quickly becoming sexually voracious and promiscuous, Minnie explores her womanhood in a variety of advanced ways, while also finding a voice as an underground-style cartoonist.
Based on the semi-autobiography ‘The Diary of a Teenage Girl: An Account in Words and Pictures’ by Phoebe Gloeckner, I’ve heard opined more than once, that a male filmmaker never could’ve gotten away with making a movie of this subject matter. I agree totally with that assessment. It’s just too raw and mature, for a man to have been given a pass for creating a meditation on the sexual awakening of a 15-year-old girl. Not that I think a male director could’ve improved upon Marielle Heller’s vision–it’s simply worth noting in a profession that is still overwhelmingly testosterone dominant. That’s slowly changing…and Ms. Heller obviously has the goods. I recognize this 1970’s decade, and I lived a part of it as a young actor taught by aging-hippie, bohemian, theater instructors. This film nails the style, mood, and flavor. I knew girls like Minnie. This is a marvelous and accurate representation. Maybe if you’re under 50, you just won’t get it. But “The Diary of a Teenage Girl” is amazing.