The Diary of a Teenage Girl

Release: Friday, August 7, 2015 (limited)


Written by: Marielle Heller

Directed by: Marielle Heller

If there was a film this year that epitomized the expression ‘don’t judge a book by its cover,’ uh . . . yeah, this is it.

In hindsight the suspect title is rather ingenious. ‘Teenage’ is certainly specific, and so is ‘the diary’ for that matter. Those aren’t the key words in the title, though. Instead, this film could have easily been titled The Diary of THE Teenage Girl, and with a simple change in articles, instantly there vanishes the personal space Marielle Heller, in an impressive directorial debut, explores invades. By reducing the scope to an individual experience rather than assuming to speak for a generation of kids going through adolescence, Heller injects her film with an intimacy that makes the film a difficult one to look away from even while being pretty uncomfortable to watch.

The teenager in question is Minnie Goetze (Bel Powley), daughter of hard-partying, image-obsessed Charlotte who is played by Kristen “I’m everywhere now and movies are better because of it” Wiig. Charlotte and her first husband are divorced and she is now seeing the handsome, mustachioed Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård). While Minnie’s curious, personal confession at the beginning — she’s just had sex for the first time and can’t stop thinking about it — is the kind of opening that quickly grabs attention, but is it enough to sustain it? Fortunately, this diary is loaded with dirty little secrets that slowly expose a family undergoing a major crisis.

Minnie is coming of age in a San Francisco set in the 1970s. Her sexual awakening encourages a series of pretty poor decisions. Her desires lead her into an affair with Monroe, who admits to having had feelings for her for sometime. Minnie hasn’t felt much attention from anyone for as long as she can remember. Perhaps the worst offender has been her own mother, who is more obsessed with extending the long-since-past days of the summer of love; Charlotte is frequently seen drunk and hanging sloppily off of Monroe’s shoulder, the pair adrift in a sea of smoke that fills the house top to bottom. Sometimes friends come over and ingratiate themselves in the cocaine that’s making the rounds.

In a corner and by herself, Minnie has her sights set on Monroe. Monroe every so often acknowledges her in the same room, but the action — yes, that action — will have to wait until later. That clandestinity is sketchy all on its own, but when factoring in age difference and the potential for the relationship to turn legally incestuous, it’s often amazing how Teenage Girl massages the risqué into something that resembles empathetic behavior. Not necessarily relatable behavior, but the kind of stuff that suggests teenage rebellion.

Heller doesn’t set her sights on perverting romance, and hopefully that wasn’t the point of Phoebe Gloeckner’s novel, either. For a film shot from the perspective of a confused teen, more often than not the sexual content is taboo rather than romantic. Performances from the lead trio — Powley being the most memorable of all — are across-the-board fantastic. Wiig is continuing a hot streak that’s lasted several years at this point, while Skarsgård challenges Wiig for the least likable adult character. Relative newcomer Powley, though, is the heart and soul of Teenage Girl‘s unusually intense angst and she will be remembered for her bravery here. Dressed down and with a crop of bangs that perhaps too lazily suggests unattractiveness, Powley’s natural prettiness is still visible but never becomes distracting.

That’s mostly because she fits so well into the environment. The film impresses with its strong production design — soft lighting and a dull color palette matches the air of melancholy that represses the Goetze household, as well as the general moroseness of an America trudging through a post-60s hangover. Scenes that don’t take place at home are largely fixated on dark and depressing knooks and crannies. Mood is inescapable. So are the awkward moments. But hey, at least they aren’t the kind you might associate with a film titled The Diary of a Teenage Girl.

Recommendation: A likely underwhelming box office draw due to its title, The Diary of a Teenage Girl is an authentic, emotional film about a life in transition. Tinged with a romanticism that’s not immediately obvious, the film works on many levels. Well-performed, unexpectedly dark and beautifully captured, I simply have to recommend giving this one a fair chance.

Rated: R

Running Time: 102 mins.

Quoted: “I’m better than you, you son of a bitch.”

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20 thoughts on “The Diary of a Teenage Girl

  1. This is one of the films I enjoyed the most this summer; thought it was excellent and the leads did so well. I must admit I haven’t thought about it too much since seeing it, but I was really impressed at the time. The inclusion of the flights of fancy artwork didn’t distract too much either.


    • Impressive work from an inspired cast take this one a lot farther than its title does. It’s too bad this has been putting off so many people. I too thought its story was very smart and while it won’t be that memorable in the long run, I think the odd relationship dynamic between Powley and Skarsgard’s characters will help make it a bit more memorable. Glad to hear you enjoyed yourself as well dude

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  2. I just listened to a radio review a while back praising this so I’m slightly intrigued by this. I’m not usually into teen-related films, but there are exceptions. I know I’m in the minority but I never found Alexander Skarsgård the slightest bit attractive, even less so w/ THAT mustache, ahah.


    • It seems this movie/review is all about the mustache. And then Simon Pegg was rocking a solid one in a film I recently reviewed. Hmm . . . is the universe telling me I need to come up with a Top That post for movie mustaches? . . . Hmmmmm . . . . .


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    • It’s really unfortunate more people aren’t willing to go and see this; I see it as more than a ‘teenage girl’ movie. It’s a brutal commentary on the difficulty of adolescence. But the title isn’t doing the picture any favors, I can understand (mostly) why people are staying away. 😉


      • In this day and age, when people are so aware of marketing, that it was allowed to happen. I really liked Unbreakable, The Iron Giant and Office Space, but they weren’t helped by the marketing despite all being brilliant.


  3. There’s been a furore over here about the fact the film got an 18 certificate-essentially locking out the audience it was meant for. I imagine it was the drug use/sex that pushed it over the edge, but it’s a shame as the film looks to be a real find.


    • It’s better than advertised I will say that with confidence. 😉 Shame about the rating it’s earned over there, and kind of ironic too. I think this plays more to a more mature audience but no doubt with a title like ‘Diary of a Teenage Girl’ it seems counterintuitive to shun away that part of your potential audience. . .


    • At the end of the day the movie is still about a diary and a teenage girl so I don’t think there is anything it can do to escape the stigmas associated with the subject. I don’t blame you at all. But it was a solid coming-of-age drama that’s for sure. 🙂

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    • I felt weird buying a ticket for it — or, rather, saying which movie I was there to see — since there was no girl with me, but when I left I felt good about my choice! Hahah. Hope you like it too.


  4. That “romanticism” tinges what could have been a troubling story about statutory rape into a winsome story about the sexual awakening of a 15-year-old girl. It’s still a bit disconcerting, but I won’t deny the film’s artistic craft.

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    • Yeah I agree, the film tended to soften up a bit as it went on. It started off on quite an odd and uncomfortable note and didn’t quite sustain that tone all the way through. But the performances are really good though so I suppose I didn’t factor that into my review too much. For a film that I saw completely on a whim, I liked this quite a bit.


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