Oh to be young again! To have the world at your fingertips and not know what to do with it. For most of us, reminiscing about our teenage selves brings back a multitude of memories — your first dance, first kiss, the fight you had with your parents about getting in five minutes after curfew. As adults, we explore these memories through rose-colored glasses, glossing over how things truly felt way back when. Writer/director Marielle Heller’s The Diary of a Teenage Girl removes these glasses and plops viewers right back into the tumultuous life of being a teenager.
The film is told from the perspective of Minnie Goetze (Bel Powley), a 15 year old aspiring cartoonist who lives in San Francisco, during the 1970s. Minnie exists in the world of most teenage girls: her bedroom walls are covered in art and posters of Iggy Pop and Janis Joplin, she holds telephone conversations with her best friend in the bathroom while her little sister listens on the other side of the door, she passes notes to boys in class, and most importantly, she records life’s daily confusions in an audio cassette diary. Where Minnie’s story diverges from that of a typical teenage girl is found in the film’s R-rating: Minnie likes having sex.
Exploring sexuality is nothing new for coming-of-age films. The Diary of a Teenage Girl exists in the minority though for its honest, full-throttle approach to teenagers and sex. For Minnie, and her sexuality, sex is not the awkward “I don’t know what I’m doing here” scenario often depicted in films on the same subject. Minnie is bewildered, but very much empowered by the sex she is and is not having. It’s a rare approach, one that might leave audiences cringing more than usual, but it is an honest one. The film takes ample time to explore the internal world of Minnie and with that comes the familiar teenage, wildly inconsistent thoughts on love and body image — grounding Minnie’s exploration of sex in the naïveté of a 15 year old girl.
While the movie’s honest approach to teenagers and sexuality deserves a fair amount of praise, the argument could be made that it tries a little too hard in this arena. Maybe the film’s first person perspective is to blame, but the film lacks a well-roundedness that could’ve easily been achieved by amping up the performances of the other characters in Minnie’s world, especially since the film features a well stacked cast. Kristen Wiig, Alexander Skarsgard, and Christopher Meloni all play supporting characters, and there was definitely a missed opportunity to give the film a little more depth through their performances.
Nostalgia is the name of the game for The Diary of a Teenage Girl and on that front, the film delivers. The good, the bad and the ugly are all out in the open as Heller uses Minnie to help us all remember the innocence, and the confusion, of our youth.