Sundance Film Review: The Diary of a Teenage Girl

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The Diary of a Teenage Girl might sound like the title of a Lindsay Lohan movie, but that's far from the truth. The film is about Minnie (Bel Powley), a 15-year old living in San Francisco in the 1970s. The first time we meet Minnie, she's skipping through the park in slow-mo ecstasy, while an inner-narrative reveals she just had sex. We will soon find out that the perpetrator is her mother's (Kristen Wiig) boyfriend, Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård). The film could veer in a heinously dark direction, but the focus is never pulled from Minnie, and her most intimate thoughts and feelings, which she speaks into a secret tape recorder. The interesting, and wonderful thing about this film is its refusal to moralize or reproach Minnie's story.

Director Marielle Heller with Bel Powley
Bel Powley, the star of The Diary of a Teenage Girl, is amazing as the emotionally bi-polar Minnie; the newcomer Brit has the perfect balance of doe-eyed innocence and unbridled horniness to own this role. Kristen Wiig, likewise, as Minnie's party girl mother is quickly becoming a staple of indie superstardom, and for good reason. Alexander Skarsgard completes the trio as the doofy, moustachioed Monroe. Before leaving for Sundance, I had prayed upon the holy Eric Northman poster in our hallway (which is a-dazzle with Christmas lights), that I would catch a glimpse of Alexander Skarsgård during the festival, but alas, he's checked out. Luckily, Heller and Powley hosted a fantastic Q&A. 

This is a film about sexual awakening, and it happens to be about a 15-year old girl, and it happens to involve a man twenty years her senior. Now, this is clearly an abusive and manipulative relationship on Monroe's part, whether Minnie realized it or not, however, I do think the time period lends itself to a more faithful telling of Minnie's story, rather than allowing demonizing of the relationship to overpower the narrative. The 1970s are years characterized by a freer, looser attitude towards sex, and that's exactly the kind of environment that allows Minnie's story to flourish, and put less of a focus on the "ick" factor. The 1970s is the perfect nest of time to allow the audience to focus on Minnie's evolution, her thoughts and feelings, and really feel them, and not be as distracted by the absolute wrongness of how that kind of relationship would be viewed today. 

Minnie is an aspiring cartoonist, and so it's only natural her drawings and animations should decorate the film. And unlike films before like 500 Days of Summerwhich used animation in a hokey, rather than helpful or meaningful way, The Diary of a Teenage Girl would lose some of its charm and insights without the little embellishments here and there. And again, the time period complements it. 

This really is the best kind of Sundance film - one that effortlessly blends drama, comedy, coming-of-age, charm, and  at the same time, gives us a brand new indie star with Bel Powley.

The Diary of a Teenage Girl
dir. Marielle Heller
Starring Bel Powley, Kristen Wiig, Alexander Skarsgaård, Christopher Meloni
102 Minutes | USA 


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