Very few movies are comfortable exploring the sexual awaking of a teen outside of comedy or a morality tale. The Diary of a Teenage Girl manages to look at this time in one girls life without judgement or levying harsh, moralizing consequences. It is at once refreshing, honest, complex, devastating, uncomfortable and sweet.
The Diary of a Teenage Girl is based on the graphic novel The Diary of a Teenage Girl: Told in Words and Pictures by Phoebe Gloeckner. I have not read the graphic novel but the movie incorporates a number of animated sequences that feels like the creative force behind the movie has a deep appreciation for the movies source material.
The story revolves around Minnie, a 15 year old girl wanting to loose her virginity but fearing that she is too unattractive to do so. One night Minnie goes out to a bar with her mothers boyfriend, Monroe, and tells him that she wants to have sex with him. Minnie looses her virginity to Monroe and while they carry on their affair Minnie has other sexual encounters outside of Monroe. This is not a spoiler. It happens in like the first ten minutes of the film.
That’s all I really want to say about the plot as I want to encourage people to seek this movie out and see it knowing as little about the movie as possible. This is a challenging film that deals with uncomfortable subject material and while I understand that this movie is not for everyone I believe that those who are willing to meet the movie on its own terms will find the experience rewarding.
If you’re still on the fence or just want a little more of my thoughts about this movie here are a few things that made this movie such a stand out for me.
The biggest positive for me about Diary of a Teenage Girl is that the movie is morally complex. There are not good characters and bad characters; just human characters. Though you could argue that Monroe is the villain of the piece and while you would not be wrong I do not believe you would be right. For the most part, everyone is trying to do what they think is right or at the very least something that is not outright malicious.
For example Minnie and Kimmie, her best friend, perform oral sex on two guys for money. The two girls seek out the two guys presenting themselves as prostitutes; there is deliberate intent. The next day, upon further reflection, the two girls decide that this is not something they want to do again as they do not like the way it made them feel.
Prostitution is looked down upon in our culture. The girls made a choice to exchange sexual favors for money. The next day they decide not to do that anymore based on their own feelings and experiences, not society judgement and pressures. The movie allowed them to make a choice which ended up being a negative experience for them and it had no lasting negative impact. End of story.
Personally I think this is great. Sure, it is not the most morally complex situation but I feel like is a lesser movie there would have been some punishment for this action. The boys would have refused to give the girls the money and called them whores. Or one of the girls get aids. Or they run into the boys later on, the boys expect sex for money and when the girls say no the boys rape them. Thankfully this doesn’t happen as the movie is about emotional honesty and not cruelty/punishment. If you want to see that go see Confessions of a Marriage Counselor.
The second positive is that the movie is sex positive. I know it’s hard to believe that a movie with statutory rape as its main story thrust can be sex positive but I believe that this movie is. The movie never condones a thirty year old man and a fifteen year old girl having sex; it never condemns them either. It simply acknowledges that this is something that happened that had both positive and negative results. The same can be said for all of the other sexual encounters that Minnie has through out the film.
Just to be clear, there are characters that judge Minnie in the film but the film itself does not judge her nor does it present all of Minnie’s experiences as positive. There are some potentially dangerous situation that Minnie get’s herself into however the movie allows Minnie to assert herself and make her own decisions; good or bad. There is a fantastic scene about half way though the movie between Minnie and Monroe the demonstrates this. The film ends with Minnie being ok but everything in her life is not ok. There are people in her life who she has hurt that she still has to make amends with.
The final highlight for me are the performances. Bel Powley plays Minnie and gives an outstanding performance that anchors the movie. She is all at once vulnerable, curious and self assured. I cannot wait to see what she does next.
Alexander Skarsgard strikes the right balance between your dads freind who you have a crush on and the creepy weed dealer who hangs out by the high school. This is an important balance to strike because we need to be on board with Minnie’s desire to sleep with him, as she is the one driving this forward ,while at the same time recognizing that this dude is an opportunistic creep.
Kristen Wiig gives another great non-comedic performance and is able to capture the deep sadness within the mother character. I really like this side of Kristen Wiig and I hope she continues getting/pursuing these kinds of roles. Still need to see Welcome to Me. Someday.
A note for anyone who has seen this film and is upset because this is not how it works is real life. Diary of a Teenage Girl is not positing that this is a universal experience and that everyone who has this type of experience will be ok. It is simply the events as experienced by one characters. Please relax.
So to re-iterate, if you are looking a movie that will be challenging, interesting and completely engaging check this film out.