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The Diary of a Teenage Girl

Their affair lasts for some time, as they meet in the afternoons after school and any time, really, Minnie can talk him into it. One knows from early on this is going to end badly of course, and it does, but not until Minnie has also been introduced to other “freedoms” like marijuana and cocaine. The mind of the teenage girl maneuvers in ways that are a complete mystery to me. As a friend of mine said to me about this movie, “It’s not possible for us really to judge this film as accurate or not. How can we?” I think he’s right.

But Justice Frankfurter was also right. I may not be able to define pornography, but I know it when I see it. Not that Diary is salacious, really; it tells the true story of Phoebe Glockner, the author of a memoir thinly disguised as a novel. True stories are what they are, and, if the sex is treated with some care, then salacious is not really the word. Maybe the word is not “salacious” but “obsessed”?

And that is what Minnie, the teenager at the heart of the film is: obsessed with sex. She pulls out a cassette tape recorder and decides to record the details of her intimate encounters with Monroe. Thankfully, Marielle Heller, the writer and first-time director of the movie avoids dwelling on these details; in fact the “diary” gets lost in the movie for the most part, though it proves to be the mechanism of Minnie’s undoing late in the film. I’d worry about this being a spoiler, if it weren’t so predictable in an otherwise relatively clean script. The standard stock characters—a girl friend for Minnie, the ex-husband/father—pad the script out without adding anything to it, but this is a minor distraction as the actors who play the three main characters are more than able to keep the viewer engaged.

Diary of a Teenage Girl was a darling of the Sundance Film Festival this year, and in many ways deserves its praise. Kristen Wiig as the mother, Charlotte, and Alexander Skarsgård as Monroe are very good, and lose themselves completely in these roles, though there is not a lot of depth to explore in either character. The find of this movie, though, is Bel Powley, an eighteen-year-old actress, who plays Minnie flawlessly and never lets what could have been a cartoonish romanticism cause the viewer to check out. (In fact there is a literally cartoonish romanticism intended in the film, as Minnie sometimes daydreams in animated drawings of flowers, etc.) Not particularly attractive—as the character is not—Powley nevertheless exudes a sexuality that is disturbing and erotic at the same time. This of course is as it should be, and it makes the film a compelling experience.

I’m not sure what the point of this movie was. Was it just to tell the story? If so, who cares about another hippie movie this many years later? Was it a commentary on every teenager’s sexual awakenings? I hope not. Was it a warning that this way, the way of “free love, sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll”, leads to a hazardous conclusion? The ending is unclear on this point, and, anyway, the movie is anything but preachy.

I don’t know. What I do know is that once again I left the theater wondering where hope lies in the experience of today’s teenager, and being saddened that none was offered. It was a rough experience, but so is life for too many teenage girls.

Drew Trotter

September 23, 2015

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