'Diary of a Teenage Girl' is an unflinching portrait of sexual awakening
PHOTO BY SONY PICTURES CLASSICS
DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL
Where is it playing?: Stadium 10
What's it rated?: R
What's it worth?: $7.00
What's it worth?: $6.50
In 1970s San Francisco, a precocious 15-year-old (Bel Powley) embarks on an enthusiastic sexual odyssey, beginning with her mother’s (Kristen Wiig) current lover (Alexander Skarsgård). The film is written and directed by Marielle Heller, who adapted the story from the graphic novel The Diary of a Teenage Girl: An Account in Words and Pictures by Phoebe Gloeckner. (102 min.)
Hayley: The 1970s were a hell of a drug! Bel Powley plays the part of Minnie—a vulnerable, sexually curious teen—with searing realism. Her inner monologues are painfully intimate (“Will anyone ever love me?” “Does my mother’s boyfriend want to lay me?”), revealing the complexities of a mind ravaged by hormones. The cinematography is at once beautiful, haunting, and whimsical. The Bay Area’s hippie culture is in full, flared-legged display here (one of the first shots shows a young topless woman lounging casually in a public park smoking weed). Based on the graphic novel of the same name by Phoebe Gloeckner, shots are randomly interspersed with the kind of counter-culture cartoons you’d expect to see in the yellowing pages of Zap Comics. This isn’t just an unflinching look at an era where traditional sexual, familial, and moral codes evaporated (often failing the kids of this generation). It is an immersive journey into Minnie’s very messy sexual awakening, warts and all. Minnie is determined to get laid and “be loved.” She gets way more than she bargained for when she sleeps with her mother’s loser boyfriend (Alexander Skarsgard), 20 years her senior. In fact, I would bet good money that if there were a sequel to this film, we would be watching Minnie as she sits on the receiving end of some serious therapy.
Camillia: To say Minnie would need some serious therapy is an understatement. With a mother (Kristen Wiig) who’s entered the ’70s with the cocaine snorting, drink guzzling mentality of a woman lost, seeking approval and acceptance from a man who she knows deep down has eyes on her 15-year-old daughter, it’s easy to see why Minnie turns to her cassette player with mini microphone in hand to spill her guts because “I just needed to tell somebody” about her first sexual experience and all the ones that follow. And there are plenty that follow. And we get to see most of them—boobs, skin, noise, and all. Warning: This movie is not one you would want to go see with someone on a first date! Or your parents. Talk about awkward. It was even awkward to watch as I sat next to Hayley—whom I’m pretty comfortable around. But through all the sex, drugs, and nudity a compelling storyline drags you through Minnie’s teenaged view of self-discovery and self-worth. Her confidence builds throughout the movie, even as she consistently calls herself fat and wonders into her cassette-player diary if anyone will ever love her.
Hayley: I have not yet read the graphic novel, but I’d like to. I think the onslaught of graphic sex scenes would be more successfully tempered by paper and ink. On the big screen, it’s hard to watch. Minnie might be sexually developed physically, but she is still a child in so many ways, including in the eyes of the law. I would omit at least half of the sex scenes. How many times can we watch a 15-year-old engage in sexual acts with a drunk 35-year-old deadbeat who should know better? Also, I would have liked to see more development of Minnie’s mother. Wiig plays the “empowered Bohemian woman” with a cigarette in one hand and a Scotch in the other, and she is living in direct conflict with the “enlightened” role she assumes. Even when Minnie faces her mother, she is shut down and silenced. Being a teenager is sucky enough already. To go through this kind of heartache as your parental figure and her rowdy friends are smoking pot and dry humping in the living room is unimaginable.
Camillia: I had to step away from this movie before I could really see what it accomplished—get away from the initial shock of watching scene after scene of a teenage girl and a 35-year-old man going at it to look at more than just what made me extremely uncomfortable. Mind you, there’s way more to her sex life than being involved in what’s essentially statutory rape. There’s also the part where she hangs out with kids her age partying and exploring the unknown as teenagers do. The film’s introspective and real. It doesn’t shy away from the stuff that can be a reality in some people’s lives, those things nobody wants to acknowledge because they’re too “disgusting” to discuss. As much as I could have done without the repetitive sex scenes, it was refreshing to watch a movie that didn’t shy away from the way people interact with the intimacy and confusion that comes with something that shouldn’t happen in the first place.
Hayley: All in all, the movie is thoughtfully made and it honors a young girl’s story (albeit a messed up one) with gritty, refreshing truth. I relished the fact that the news of the day, the Patty Hearst debacle, takes place in the background, and it directly correlates to Minnie’s situation. Her mother believes Hearst is empowered and is “starting over with her life” while Minnie can’t believe someone could be dumb enough to be brainwashed by her captors. Minnie doesn’t know it yet, but she is in a similar situation. If you can stomach a whole lot of creepy sex, you, too, can find out if Minnie continues to play the victim or if she can move toward true liberation.
Sun Screen was written this week by New Times Interim Arts Editor Hayley Thomas and Sun Executive Editor Camillia Lanham. Comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.