Director: Marielle Heller
Starring: Bel Powley, Alexander Skarsgard, Kristen Wiig, Christopher Meloni, Margarita Levieva, Madeleine Waters, Abby Wait
Written by: Marielle Heller and (based on the novel) Phoebe Gloeckner
Running Time: 102 mins
Release date: 7th August 2015
Coming-of-age films are usually following the exploits of a group of horny, socially awkward teenage boys as they desperately (and often fail) to lose their virginity while crammed with Carry On style humour. So how refreshing is it to see a film that not only captures the sexual awakening of a teenage girl but done in such a frank and open manner, While the topic may cause controversy, it’s handled in a way that captures the confusion of that first time.
Minnie is a 15-year-old living with her mother and sister in a free-love society of 1976 San Francisco. After taking her out for the evening, she finds herself losing her virginity to her mother’s boyfriend, Monroe, a man 20 years her senior. Recording her thoughts on tape, Minnie finds her life changing as she slowly becomes a woman.
The topic of a 15-year-old having an affair with an older man might not sit comfortably for some, first time director Marielle Heller has taken Phoebe Gloeckner’s semi-autobiographical novel and turned in the type of independent cinematic experience that takes risks with tone, pace and style, while at the same time pushing the visuals, using Robert Crumb-style animations to get us closer inside the head of a girl growing.
Heller doesn’t hold back either. This is a warts and all tale, never holding back. Minnie does it all, from the extended days and nights with Monroe, to picking up strangers in a bar and pretending to be a prostitute, entering the realm of drug taking and exploring lesbianism. This is a girl desperately trying to find her place in the world, even if she makes some mistakes along the way, The subject is very rarely explored in such detail on-screen and thankfully, Heller has steered clear of the usual smut and toilet humour, instead replacing it with a naturalness and frankness that feels ultimately refreshing.
The film isn’t afraid to play around with narrative form. It is like listening to the confused ramblings of a girl living in a confusing time. It jumps from day-to-day, experience to experience. Sometimes this form doesn’t work and scenes don’t always connect, yet you can forgive this, as it brings a realistic feel to the whole proceedings. It is also aided by some outstanding performances, none more so than from Bel Powley as Minnie.
With her wide-eyed wonderment, this is a career making performance from Powley. She captures Minnie with confidence, showing a vulnerable side to a girl unable to contain her feelings and emotions. Alexander Skarsgard is terrific too, as the far-too-laid back Monroe (in his best role since What Maisie Did). The scenes between the two are surprisingly touching and what could have been sleazy, stays away from being exploitative. Only Kristen Wiig’s drug and drink fuelled mother comes across more like a sketchy creation from her Saturday Night Live days, only really coming to life as she feels something isn’t right between the two.
The Diary Of A Teenage Girl is a bold, brave examination of the transgression of a girl into womanhood. It might not be perfect but at least it never talks down to its audience or treats the whole experience as some childish joke. With its outstanding lead, this deserves to be the indie cinema hit of the year.