The Diary of a Teenage Girl Movie Review: A Refreshing and Honest Look at Female Adolescence and Sexuality

A stunning debut for Marielle Heller as a director.
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The Diary of a Teenage Girl is based on Phoebe Gloeckner’s graphic novel of the same name. It tells story of Minnie Goetze (Bel Powley), a teenage girl growing up in 1976 San Francisco. She wants to be an artist and a cartoonist, but like most teenage girls also wants to be loved and wanted. After a night of drinking and flirting at a local bar, Minnie begins a sexual relationship with her mother Charlotte’s (Kristen Wiig) boyfriend Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard). What follows is an unflinching tale of female adolescence told through the eyes of a young girl who is discovering herself and her self-worth.

The Diary of a Teenage Girl is an intimate and immersive film that blends live action with animation to reveal Minnie’s emotions throughout the film. As an audience member, it feels like you are always in the room with Minnie and the other characters. The visuals in The Diary of a Teenage Girl are warm and inviting and have a feeling of comfort even during uncomfortable scenes. The set design feels authentic and not like a caricature of San Francisco in the late '70s.

This film is the directorial debut for Marielle Heller who already has a career as an actress and writer. After falling in love with the graphic novel, Heller first adapted the material for the stage and then wrote the screenplay for this film. The Diary of a Teenage Girl is a stunning debut for Heller as a director and I cannot wait to see what other projects she gets involved with in the future.

The Diary of a Teenage Girl is the first American role for British native Bel Powley. She plays Minnie with an incredible honesty and realism that captures the audience from the first moment she appears on screen. The honesty and complexity Powley brings to the character of Minnie will no doubt resonate with audiences of all ages, but especially women. I found myself really connecting with Minnie and this amazingly truthful representation of female adolescence and budding sexuality. 

Alexander Skarsgard plays Monroe, who is caught between the teenage boy that he wishes he still was and the successful adult he hopes to be. Without the right casting, Monroe could have easily been viewed as a creepy predator but Skarsgard embodies the role in a way that allows the audience to like him while still questioning his actions. Monroe is a man engaging in two very different relationships and the onscreen chemistry Skarsgard has with both Wiig and Powley is engaging and believable. None of the scenes between Skarsgard and his female costars feel forced or unrealistic. Alexander Skarsgard has found the balance in playing Monroe, a dualistic character that grows more complex as the film progresses.

Charlotte, Minnie’s hard-partying mother who is still trying to hold onto her youth, is played with beautiful ease by Kristen Wiig. As a character, Charlotte has a familiarity that will cause the audience to recognize her as a person from their own lives. She is constantly living for today while reminiscing about how good the past was. This is yet another role that makes it evident that Kristen Wiig will continue to expand her career as a well-rounded actress who can get an audience laughing and also bring them to tears.  

Christopher Meloni plays Pascal, Charlotte’s ex-husband and father to Minnie’s half-sister Gretel (Abby Wait). He is a scientist with a deep analytical bend who is still not over Charlotte and tries to gain insight into her life whenever the opportunity arises. This role is a departure from many of the roles that Meloni is known for but it doesn’t make him any less believable. As a character, Pascal may not get a ton of screen time but he brings an important juxtaposition to the other characters in the film. Meloni is remarkable in any character he plays and this role is no different.

The soundtrack to The Diary of a Teenage Girl is a mixture of songs from bands like T. Rex and The Stooges as well as a beautiful score composed by Marielle’s brother, Nate Heller. The music is beautifully woven into this film and does what music should do, it sets the tone and doesn’t distract from the story being told on the screen.

I loved The Diary of a Teenage Girl, and it is a refreshing and honest look at female adolescence and sexuality. The sex scenes are handled well and not in a graphic or over-the-top manner. Some viewers might be uncomfortable with the film, but I think that reaction will come from the fact that most audiences have not seen a truthful look into female adolescence portrayed on screen. In most films about adolescence, it is young men who are shown dealing with these things and not young women. But since I was a teenage girl who didn’t grow up in a prude environment dreaming of a knight in shining armor, this film rang true from start to finish.  

The Diary of a Teenage Girl is rated R and runs 102 minutes. The film is playing in select theaters.

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