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Review: The Diary of a Teenage Girl

The Diary of a Teenage Girl announces itself right from the get-go, with the character of Minnie (Bel Powley), a 15-year-old from San Francisco, filmed from the underside, crotch-first, proclaiming that she just had sex that day. It is like a female version of The Lonely Island featuring Akon and their straightforward song.

However, this method of director Mariel Heller introducing her main character sets a difficult precedent. Because Minnie is so precocious, (in reality, the actress is 23 and British, but she pulls it off with aplomb) and tiny, the film feels very transversive. It carries with it perhaps the most inspired ten minute opening sequence of any film this year. But it struggles to retain its momentum in the long run, through little fault of its own.

Once we get over the initial shock of figuring out just whom Minnie engages in congress, (her mother’s gadabout boyfriend Monroe), the stakes of seeing her engaging in higher and higher stakes sexual adventures, often with the help of her friend Kimmie (Madeleine Waters), the thrill is slightly diminished.

For although the film is extremely sex-positive, a rarity among films of this kind, even in the art house circuit, the diary opens with a bang. The image of Minnie fornicating with Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård) becomes so intimate mainly because of the great height disparity. She’s tiny and he’s rangy. But even though the height difference adds credence to the illicit relationship, (though it is rarely discussed as such), it somehow is not indelible for a strange reason: Skarsgård despite his wispy moustache is just too handsome for it to feel truly pervasive.

A theory was proposed that perhaps Monroe was not nearly as handsome as is portrayed because Minnie is the author of her own design. This might also explain why her creaky mother is played by Kristin Wiig, far from a shrinking violet herself. And this theory does have merit, but perhaps does not go far enough. Because the film itself is filtered through the prism of Minnie, through her titular diary, recorded on cassette (!) and also through her art, she may have used creative license to invent so much more.

Perhaps only Phoebe Gloeckner, the graphic novelist who created the original source material could answer the question, (and the movie shines in its depiction of a budding graphic artist). It’s a misnomer to describe the film as a sexual coming-of-age story, as it’s about the growth of a young woman in many different ways, including artistically. The sense of place and time is very well-captured, and it is a relief watching a film in which a woman is given a great deal of autonomy, even to make the wrong decision.

However, when the film is compared to, say, another coming of age sexual awakening based on a graphic novel, the musical Fun Home, it lacks a sense of completion. The ending provides a denouement that the film simply does need. The Diary of a Teenage Girl is worth listening to, but Minnie could have found her voice without a superfluous final authorial flourish.

[star v=35]