Diary of a Teenage Girl
Authentic is the word that most audiences would use to describe Marielle Heller’s directorial debut, Diary of a Teenage Girl.
Roaring onto the screen in Autumn 2015, Diary is a female-led coming of age story based on the novel of the same name. 1970’s San Francisco teen, 15-year-old Minnie (Bel Powley), embarks on a damaging affair with her washed-up mother’s boyfriend, Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård). Diary explores female sexuality, power dynamics and, most prevalently, the sheer perplexity of being a teenage girl.
This is unmistakably a story of sexual abuse. However, Diary perfectly encapsulates the naivety and sheer need to be treated like an adult that most young people can easily identify with. Young women especially are often completely unaware that they are victims, and the poignancy of this unworldliness is a key theme. Minnie is nobody’s victim, but her vulnerability makes an uncomfortable watch.
Minnie is not your passive narrator. She actively pursues Monroe with all the anger, comedy and confusion of a singular hormone. Ignored by her mother, (Kristen Wiig) and abandoned by her father. Minnie is determined to get what she wants, and this is itself creates an unusual and morally complex power dynamic. Minnie dominates, and to some extent, instigates the affair with her natural impulsiveness, only stopping to reflect during her fantastical ramblings into her cassette player. This feeling of learning is apt as this is actually Heller’s debut and one that she herself is learning from
Throughout the film, the incorporation of Minnie’s doodles, presented as animated illustrations, reinforces her childlike nature, and add a unique layer of depth and insight into her character as a whole. Whilst this gimmick could easily be cumbersome, Heller’s artworkers deserve lashings of praise for their ability to seamlessly execute the chromatic doodles into an important subtextual element. Translating challenging source material in the form of a graphic novel, into a live-action film is no easy feat, but Diary pulls this off with aplomb.
For a coming of age film, Minnie’s character arc is also unusual, she doesn’t learn how to nab her man. Instead, her character growth comes from the development of self-awareness, primarily a better understanding of herself and her own sexuality. Bolstered by Bel Powley’s spectacular performance, it feels incredibly poignant.
“I know nothing’s changed, but everything looks totally different to me now.” Reflects Minnie.
Diary doesn’t invite the viewer to judge, it instead calls for reflection and understanding about how we perceive, and more importantly, how we treat, our own chaotic and wonderful teenage girls.