By Will Barber Taylor
Like most teenage girls, Minnie Goetze (Bel Powley) is longing for love, acceptance and a sense of purpose in the world. Minnie begins a complex love affair with her mother’s (Kristen Wiig) boyfriend, “the handsomest man in the world”, Monroe Rutherford (Alexander Skarsgård). What follows is a sharp, funny and provocative account of one girl’s sexual and artistic awakening, without judgment.
The Diary of a Teenage Girl treads the line between charming and disturbing in a way that very few films would attempt, with fewer succeeding. The reason The Diary of a Teenage Girl succeeds where others fail is because it has a true, uncompromising honesty which bears up to the deepest scrutiny. Instead of making the character of Minnie a template character, an overtly “average” teen Marielle Heller makes Minnie as individualistic as possible.
She lives in a 70s household that both typifies the stereotype of the “hippy household”, with the prevalence of free love and drugs, but subverts it by not making it the “hippyness” the central part of the family dynamic.
Minnie’s interest in drawing cartoons (which permeate the film and wonderfully capture Minnie’s mood changes throughout it) and her removed relationship from her mother define her; they make her different. It is the confusion and lack of direction that Minnie feels over the sexual desires that she is developing that is the true honesty of the film. By capturing universal emotions and giving them to a character that is relatable but not simply a backdrop to those emotions, the film makes itself more than an allegory. It makes it a story that can fascinate and entertain as well as educate on the stresses and strains of adolescence.
To add to this the film uses music in a fascinating and complex way. It moves and slithers through the spine of the film. It vaults as Minnie’s emotions do; going from optimistic and upbeat at the start of the film to somewhat melancholic but hopeful by the end. Like the cartoons, it illustrates better than anything Minnie’s journey to self-fulfilment and realisation about her body and who she is.
Bel Powley’s stunning performance is the centrepiece of the whole film. She captures an essence of false self confidence that so many teenagers feel; the different body language she uses when with her mother and then with Monroe cleverly illustrates her true insecurities. Powley doesn’t do this in an overtly obvious manner; her subtlety can sometimes be as slight as the tilt of her head or a hand on a hip.
Ultimately, The Diary of a Teenage Girl is a timeless allegory for adolescence. It never tries to make its central characters’ cardboard cut-out caricatures to make its message easier. They are complex, secretive and above all unsure of themselves which is why the film is so brilliant; it isn’t about getting an answer, it is about asking questions, questions which define all of our lives.
With thanks to We Are Colony. You can purchase The Diary of a Teenage Girl from them here.