Sundance Review: The Diary Of A Teenage Girl Handles A Creepy Concept Well
Title: The Diary of a Teenage Girl
Director: Marielle Heller
Screenwriter: Marielle Heller (screenplay) and Phoebe Gloeckner
Principal Cast: Bel Powley, Alexander Skarsgård, Christopher Meloni, and Kristen Wiig
Summary:Minnie Goetze is a 15-year-old aspiring comicbook artist, coming of age in the haze of the 1970s in San Francisco. Insatiably curious about the world around her, Minnie is a pretty typical teenage girl. Oh, except that she’s sleeping with her mother’s boyfriend.
I’m not sure I’ve mentioned it before, but I can handle a lot in movies except for rape and sexual violence. I couldn’t make it through Game of Thrones for that reason, and when I read the summary for The Diary of a Teenage Girl I almost didn’t want to see it. It’s about a fifteen year old sleeping with a man in his thirties. There really isn’t a good way to spin that but the buzz was extremely positive so I decided to try and give it a chance. After all it isn’t Sundance if we don’t see at least one movie about a young girl’s sexual awakening.
The Diary of a Teenage Girl handles what is a pretty creepy concept about as well as it can by never demonizing Minnie’s (Bel Powley) sex drive and making sure the audience knows that Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård) is a scumbag.
In this sort of situation the way it usually plays out is the girl is seduced by the older man and is made to pay the price for seeking out sex outside of a relationship. I’m really glad that the movie doesn’t go there. While there really isn’t a good way to address statutory rape, The Diary of a Teenage Girl handles it the best way a movie possibly could. Minnie is the one who goes after Monroe, and she’s the instigator in a lot of their sexual adventures. Now that does not excuse the fact that a thirty year old man slept with a fifteen year old girl at all, but this is about as good as a scenario as I could have hoped for.
The movie doesn’t shy away from the fact that this is incredibly creepy and it reminds us constantly that Monroe is a complete scumbag of a human being. They don’t try to romanticize their relationship even when it becomes obvious that one or both of them have moved beyond the “casual sex partner” label. The movie never places blame on Minnie for wanting to have sex, but focuses the blame squarely on Monroe for reacting to her advances the way he did.
This is helped a lot by an inner monologue by Minnie, since she is telling this story to her tape recorder. It’s a nice fourth wall breaking measure that helps a lot of stories that are told from a first person perspective. That’s why I find The Hunger Games incredibly dull; a lot of stuff happens off screen because we only have one perspective. We only have Minnie’s perspective but we get to hear her thoughts and even watch them play out. She is an artist and her art often appears on screen as well.
This is all supported by a fantastic cast with Bel Powley as our leading lady. She is perfectly cast as someone who is still trying to find herself. Within a single shot she can go from looking like an awkward child to a grown woman. She is extremely relatable from the moment she appears on screen. Alexander Skarsgård sports an amazing handlebar mustache and he spends most of the movie being the worst kind of human being. We also get to see Kristen Wiig in a more dramatic role as Minnie’s oblivious mother and she does a great job.
The Diary of a Teenage Girl isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea simply from the premise alone, but if you’re on the fence I encourage you to take a look. It’s very well done with a great leading lady who is going to go on to do great things. We need more movies about young women finding their sexuality and have that be a good thing not a bad one.