Directed by: Marielle Heller
Written by: Marielle Heller
Starring: Bel Powley, Alexander Skarsgård, Christopher Meloni, Kristen Wiig
Getting into the mind of a teenager has been a puzzle parents have been trying to solve for a long time. With all of the new knowledge and hormones spiking with an undeveloped brain may cause some strange behavior, but finding a way to understand them remains paramount. They have thoughts, desires, and dreams, as seen through the introspective and personal The Diary of a Teenage Girl.
Minnie (Bel Powley) has entered a stage in her adolescence where she constantly thinks about her looks and if others find her sexually viable. It consumes all of her thoughts and just wants to engage sexually with someone. It first occurs with her mother’s boyfriend Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård), which then spirals into a transformative and informative time in her life.
Any film displaying a sexual relationship between a teenager and a grown man automatically gives off this strange and uncomfortable vibe to it because it’s statutory rape and wrong. The way it gets presented in this excellent film comes through the lens of Minnie and her sexual development. The sexual agency she practices does not mean she can properly provide consent for this sort of relationship morally or legally but it demonstrates why she sees this as a thrilling experience. That’s where the success of The Diary of a Teenage Girl sets in, it’s all about her feelings, her desires, and what helps her develop emotionally.
As with any film based on a diary book, the challenge of visually displaying what occurred inside the mind of the character on text rears its head. Luckily, Marielle Heller chose to bring this story to the big screen and she demonstrates why we do not deserve her. Not only does she creatively bring these thoughts onto the screen but adds imaginative animation to really get at how her character feels in these integral moments. At times Minnie has difficulty fully expressing herself, but through her drawings, she can visually display it, which beautifully weaves throughout the story. Heller’s imaginative directing style brings all of these thoughts to life in a meaningful way and with this feature debut, she proves why she’s one of my favorite contemporary directors.
As the story progresses, Minnie spirals out quite a bit as she cannot fully understand all of the feelings she suddenly has. Something many teens can attest to but their environment dictates the amount of damage these actions can cause and their access to harmful things. Minnie lives with her mother, Charlotte (Kristen Wiig), who raises the teenager and a younger sister. Charlotte does not have a strong handle on life, as she engages in illicit drugs in the same household where her children sleep. She’s dating a man, who will eventually statutory rape her own daughter, and struggles to get by financially. An unfortunate circumstance overall, which contributes to Minnie being able to spiral and do all of this experimentation with sex and drugs.
The tool to record all of the thoughts of Minnie in this film comes through the use of a tape recorder, where she outlines her thoughts and hopes to look back on it as an adult to remember what it felt like to be a young girl. With her not so secretly keeping it hidden, it’s obvious something will occur with it. Even with the salacious activities, she gets involved in, the beauty of allowing this girl to freely express herself in her thoughts and actions shows someone learning from mistakes and trying to decide what she likes. It shows when she describes how much she loves sex. She pushes back against the belief, especially in a less progressive time, that boys initiate sex and girls just have to use it as a means for love. Minnie outright rejects this by stating how much she enjoys and wants to partake in sex, even to the point where every sexual experience she has in the film comes purely from her initiative. She asks Monroe to have sex with her and nearly commands it with future experiences. This side of female sexuality rarely gets such an honest and raw depiction as seen in this film, which makes it groundbreaking and vital.
Portraying the 15-year-old Minnie is Bel Powley, who beautifully nails the vulnerability this role commands. Even in instances where she tries to act mature and beyond her years, the moments where she comes crashing back down and reminds the audience of her young age is heartbreaking, which Powley beautifully displays. She has to do plenty of acting without speaking when the voiceover comes in to state her thoughts and the expressive features she utilizes captures the comedic and tragic aspects of her circumstances. The gross and complicated performance given by Alexander Skarsgård also deserves praise because it shows what makes him attractive enough to be alluring but also scummy to the point where he would sexually engage with a teenager. Some of it comes down to Skarsgård being a beautiful man, even with the mustache they give him, but also the demeanor he puts on as Monroe.
Raw, honest, and transformative are words that can aptly describe the beauty and tragedy of The Diary of a Teenage Girl. It serves as a wonderful introspection of a young girl’s life in both live-action and animation along with displaying the unfettered desires adolescents have. She happens to act upon them, which puts her into binds at times. Some moments, especially the sex scenes with Monroe, are difficult to sit through knowing the dynamic but it squarely remains Minnie’s perspective and story throughout. The film does not fail to emphasize it and even punctuates it at the very end.