Title: The Diary Of A Teenage Girl
Director: Marielle Heller
Major Players: Bel Powley, Alexander Skarsgard, Kristen Wiig
Out Of Five: Four
Another coming of age movie. Yawn? Actually no because, as the title rather gives away, it’s about a girl, making it a rather refreshing and timely change. Most of the films in the genre that immediately come to mind are about boys – most recently Boyhood, but also Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Stand By Me and the rest. Not that girls don’t get a look-in – Disney Pixar’s Inside Out being the latest example – but they tend to be in the minority. Which means The Diary Of A Teenage Girl gets a warm welcome .
Fifteen year old Minnie (Bel Powley) is an aspiring artist in the San Francisco of the late 70s. She loses her virginity to Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard), who is 20 years her senior, and also happens to be her mother’s boyfriend. Minnie records all her experiences and thoughts on her tape recorder (keeping it well hidden) and, although she also has a brief fling with a boy at school, she keeps going back to Monroe. And the likelihood of her mother finding out gets increasingly stronger.
An extra piece of publicity landed in the film’s warm and welcoming lap last week, courtesy of the BBFC (British Board Of Film Censors) who awarded it an 18 certificate. The rationale was all to do with “strong sex scenes”, the use of cocaine, LSD and marijuana and shots of penises. And because this is about a girl’s sexual awakening, albeit under age, you’d expect “scenes of a sexual nature” and that’s what you get – but they’re not unduly strong or gratuitous. There’s no full frontal nudity – breasts, yes, but that’s about it – and the shots of penises referred to by the BBFC are actually cartoon drawings. There can’t be many 15 year olds nowadays who don’t know what one looks like, even if it is a drawing. And plenty of 15 certificate movies have shown drug taking as well so, although the BBFC gets it right most of the time, this one looks like an over-reaction.
OK, so what about the film itself? Director Marielle Heller is also behind the screenplay, which is based on the comic book novel of the same name by Phoebe Gloeckner. And her pen – or keyboard – is full of perception and understanding, putting her finger unerringly on all the fantasies of the teenage Minnie, her naivete in relationships even though she thinks she’s being terribly mature and her vulnerability as a result. It gives Bel Powley a role to really get her teeth into (unlike Princess Margaret in A Royal Night Out, where she simply over-acted) and show her skill as an actress. It’s a real break-out role.
The spirit of the original cartoon novel is created through Minnie’s own drawings, not just the ones on her wall and in her notebook, but the ones that play a physical part in the story. They bring her thoughts to life – we hear her thoughts as she records them into the cassette player, which also acts as the film’s narration – and even show how she feels when she experiments with LSD and has a very pleasant trip. Unlike Monroe.
The film has an almost tangible sense of period, full of the brown and cream décor that went with the 70s, as well as the huge TV, cassette player, manual typewriter (even electric ones hadn’t arrived) and the soundtrack, which includes T Rex and Mott The Hoople. Her mother, Charlotte (Kristen Wiig), now separated from her controlling husband Pascal (Law And Order SVU’s Christopher Meloni), is making up for lost time and living the 60s hippy life a bit late: she has a job to earn money, but it all seems to go on drink, cigarettes and drugs. Wiig is nicely complex, alternating between being pitiful, then sympathetic then, surprisingly, strong. Although, as Minnie herself observes, she doesn’t want to be anything like her mother. And she believes she isn’t.
The Diary Of A Teenage girl has plenty of humour, some of it wry, some of it almost sad and some of it just plain comical. Most of it comes from the characters themselves and, while you’re not going to guffaw out loud at the film, it’ll be hard not to smile and chuckle. And you’ll genuinely be charmed by its refreshingly honest style. Not something you’d associate with an 18 certificate movie, is it?
The Diary Of A Teenage Girl is released on Friday, 7 August and is also reviewed on Talking Pictures.