It’s 1976 and 15-year-old Minnie Goetze has just had sex for the first time: with her mother’s boyfriend (“the handsomest man in the world”)! And … she really liked it. Thus catapulted into her adolescent journey of sexual awakening and empowerment, aspiring artist Minnie documents her discoveries on cassette in intimate and unapologetic detail. Adapting Phoebe Gloeckner’s acclaimed graphic novel, debut writer/director Marielle Heller has created a non-judgmental, funny and provocative film.
Newcomer Bel Powley is breathtaking as Minnie – growing up before our eyes – with Kristen Wiig her wild eyed, free-living mother and Alexander Skarsgård the Adonis of their mutual affections. The winner of the Grand Prix of the Generation 14+ International Jury in Berlin is as hilariously poignant as it is unsettlingly authentic. A powerhouse script and a superb performance from a rising star who has three films out this year and four next year are the hallmarks of this quirky teenage coming of age story. You just sit there and go “wow”, such is the impact of this vehicle.
Please don’t dismiss my characterisation of “teenage coming of age story” to mean that it is only aimed at adolescents. Far from it. This is forthright, honest filmmaking at its finest that deserves a wide audience. It captures the uncertainties and longings and experimentation of youth in an age when flares and party drugs were all the rage.
Powley, who made such an impression as Princess Margaret in A Royal Night Out, hits it out of the ballpark. She is compelling as the centre of attention, beautifully capturing the urges and surges running through a teenager’s body. There is confusion, racing hormones and the need to be desired. Powley is a budding cartoonist and her drawings literally come to life as part of this picture. That animation element is a treat that elucidates her character’s fantasies and feelings. Kristin Wiig plays a key support role as the hard living, hard partying single mother who feels she has to have a man in her life to make her complete.
The Diary of a Teenage Girl is an unexpected treat and among the year’s best offerings. Finally, notwithstanding all that I have said, a note of caution. Even though this is pitched as more comedic than dramatic, in this country (and probably many others) the mother’s boyfriend would be locked up for sleeping with an underage girl. While the story is wonderfully engaging, the undercurrent of paedophilia doesn’t sit comfortably with me.
Nevertheless, rated MA, The Diary of a Teenage Girl remains an enlightened and enlightening piece of cinema that scores an 8½ out of 10.
Director: Marielle Heller
Cast: Bel Powley, Alexander Skarsgård, Kristen Wiig
Release Date: 24 September 2015
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television