The Diary of a Teenage Girl movie review

Featuring:: Bel Powley, Alexander Skarsgard, Kristen Wiig, Christopher Meloni, Abby Wait
Director: Marielle Heller
Writers: Phoebe Gloeckner (novel), Marielle Heller (screenplay)
Movie website:
Australian release date: Thu 1 Oct

Reviewer: rolanstein
Verdict: Honest, funny, poignant and REAL. Watching this movie is like being kissed by youth.

This open-hearted, mercilessly honest, funny and poignant story of teenage girl Minnie’s metamorphosis into adulthood is a career maker for two women: director Marielle Heller (astonishingly, this is her feature movie debut) and lead actor Bel Powley.

15-year-old Minnie’s ‘diary’ is a cassette recorder, her bedroom confidante. The first entry is also one of the first lines of the film: “I had sex today.” Rewind (in time, not on tape), and it transpires that she is referring to her first experience of sex – with her mother’s (Kristen Wiig) 30-something boyfriend Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård). Okaaay.

It is important to factor in the setting, which is morally fluid San Francisco of the mid-70s. Further, the counter-culture overhang from the late 60s still looms large: Minnie’s mum and her friends are recreational cocaine users, and it is evident from Minnie’s musical taste that she is drawn to the subversive and not destined to join the suburban middle-class. She wants to be a graphic artist (her drawings are incorporated in some delightful animations throughout the film), has a picture of a glowering Iggy Pop on her bedroom wall, and in one joyously juvenile scene jumps up and down on her bed with her girlfriend to the brutally compelling primal beat of The Stooges’ rock classic Down on the Street. Television’s See No Evil features later on. Tremendous time and culture markers, these songs (and yeah, Minnie’s around my vintage, so this is the era of my youth – call that a disclaimer, if you like).

As Minnie and Monroe carry on their increasingly torrid clandestine affair, inevitable complications arise. Minnie’s girl-woman confusion and her emotional swings and confronting realisations are superbly negotiated by Powley, who lends her character a rare sense of authenticity – indeed, this sense that we’re watching something REAL and TRUE, albeit manifested in fictional form, is characteristic of the entire movie. And as such, there is little room or reason for judgement on the part of the filmmakers.

Minnie is who she is – a complex developing female of artistic temperament paying heed to her instincts, prioritising personal adventure and exploration over conventional social restraints as she straddles the child and adult worlds, oscillating, unsure whether to go forward or back, sampling the sweet and the sour. There’s no doubt that Monroe is a predator, but he’s weak, not bad. The viewer may put him to the moral torch based on contemporary standards, but the filmmakers are less righteous in their approach. Ditto, with Minnie’s mother. How refreshing, how artistically brave in these PC-hobbled times.

Power shifts begin as Minnie begins to see Monroe more clearly, and to seek independence, while his now uncontrolled emotions pull him in the opposite direction. Then, of course, there’s the Chekovian gun – the cassette recorder – that must be discharged. When the shit hits the fan, Minnie hits the road with her wayward bohemian girlfriend, and does some growing up the hard way.

Coming-of-age stories don’t get any better, but this terrific film is more than that. It’s a rebel yell straight from the feminist heart, but minus the ideological bullshit, and with a deep-felt sense of gender-irrelevant humanity at its core. I don’t think I’ve felt so thrilled at the movies, so inspired to fist pump and shout out “Yes!” (were it not for social restraints, heh heh) since that humdinger of a scene in Rebel Without A Cause in which James Dean kicks in the portrait of his grandmother as he storms out the door after an argument with his folks.

For those whose teenage heart still beats beneath the layers of disillusionment and world-weariness that build up over the years, watching this movie is like being kissed by youth. Awake, sleeping beauty – and all for the price of a movie ticket.

Do. Not. Miss.

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2 thoughts on “The Diary of a Teenage Girl movie review”

  1. Yes yes yes!

    Wasn’t this great?

    Fantastic to see a Bildungsroman with a GIRL in the lead, and what’s more, a girl who takes control of her sexuality, and doesn’t become a victim. The historical context is perfect, and Minnie’s emotional maturation, which eventually catches up with her sexual maturity, is a joy to watch, not least because it happens along with her gradual exposure to feminist themes through her role model, the older cartoonist.

    And the closing scenes! Yay for the sisterhood, literally!

    Great review, rolanstein! I agree with every word!


  2. Thanks for your comments, Karen, and sorry for this delay in responding.

    I thought your second paragraph was an excellent short review of the film! We’re obviously in lockstep with this one, and why wouldn’t we be? Just terrific stuff.


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