THE DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL: Discovery, Channeled

by Janelle Hessig

As a fan of the illustrated novel on which The Diary Of A Teenage Girl is based, I was equal parts ecstatic and nervous when I learned this film was being made. How could they make a movie about a teenage girl having an affair with her mom’s boyfriend without whitewashing it? Would they turn protagonist Minnie Goetz into a victim? Was To Catch A Predator host Chris Hanson going to present a disclaimer at the end?

A page from Phoebe Gloeckner's The Diary of a Teenage Girl.

A page from Phoebe Gloeckner’s The Diary of a Teenage Girl.

Just as Minnie Goetz has no reliable adult supervision, viewers of The Diary Of A Teenage Girl are similarly left with no one manning the morality lighthouse. Our narrator is a teenage girl’s libido uncensored, unfiltered by hindsight, and we’re left alone to make our own judgements. Against a convincing backdrop of ’70s San Francisco, Minnie is left to decipher the mysteries of love and her burgeoning sexuality using only her own innate tools—curiosity, insecurity, and rampant teenage horniness.

Bel Powley as Minnie in The Diary of a Teenage Girl.

Bel Powley as Minnie in The Diary of a Teenage Girl.

They couldn’t have found a more ideal actress to play Minnie than British newcomer Bel Powley. Powley’s moonpie face and saucer eyes (looking uncannily similar to Gloeckner’s teenage self portraits) are the perfect reflection of curiosity and discovery. Minnie snaps a Polaroid of her post-coital face after losing her virginity to Monroe. She hangs the photo by her mirror and regards it as another clue—does she look different? Are there outward signs of her transformation? Can people tell? These are the moments in the film that make it feel like one of the first authentic female coming-of-age stories, one that too few filmmakers have bothered to tell before.

Bel Powley as Minnie and Kristen Wiig as Charlotte in The Diary of a Teenage Girl.

Bel Powley as Minnie and Kristen Wiig as Charlotte in The Diary of a Teenage Girl.

Kristen Wiig plays a convincing swinging single ’70s mom without presenting a villain or a clown. No small feat for a comedic actress, especially when you factor in the potential slapstick inherent in playing a drunk mom in polyester, cleaning the house on cocaine. But Wiig reins it in like a champ.

Hottie handicap: Alexander Skarsgård as Monroe in The Diary of a Teenage Girl.

Hottie handicap: Alexander Skarsgård as Monroe in The Diary of a Teenage Girl.

Alexander Skarsgård does a fine job as mom’s boyfriend/daughter deflowerer Monroe without playing it creepy or heavy-handed. Just a guy doing his thing and hoping not to get caught. However, is a textbook dreamboat the best choice for this character? He never fully transcends his hottie handicap and I found it to be the one aspect that didn’t ring true.

Jumping

Hottie handicap: Alexander Skarsgård as Monroe in The Diary of a Teenage Girl.

Minnie (Bel Powley) with Kimmie (Madeleine Waters) in the film version of The Diary of a Teenage Girl, and the arrival of Tabitha in Phoebe Gloeckner’s book.

Minnie’s friends don’t prove helpful as a source of comfort or guidance. They’re all in the same boat as she is, only some are sunk even deeper. Best friend Kimmie talks about sex with the same sense of importance as she talks about flat-ironing her hair. Street kid Tabitha attempts to pimp Minnie out in exchange for quaaludes. How any of us ever make it out of teenage girlhood alive is a mystery.

Comic book heroines: Minnie (Bel Powley) discovers Aline Kominsky in a shop that looks suspiciously like The Magazine in The Diary of a Teenage Girl.

Comic book heroines: Minnie (Bel Powley) discovers Aline Kominsky in a shop that looks suspiciously like The Magazine in The Diary of a Teenage Girl.

Minnie finally unearths a cipher once she discovers underground comic books and the work of Aline Kominsky-Crumb. In the end, the world finally begins to take shape for her and gives her a purpose. This is the type of “happy ending” that many filmgoers (myself included) have long been dreaming about.

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Credit: Janelle Hessig.

Credit: Janelle Hessig.

Janelle Hessig was born on a dark and stormy night in Contra Costa County. It was Groundhog’s Day but she did not see her shadow on the way out. She remained in the Bay Area to become a writer, musician, cartoonist, and townie. She is the Marketing Director at Last Gasp in San Francisco and founded the publishing company Gimme Action in 2014.

Also in this issue, read other reviews about  The Diary of a Teenage Girl by Dodie Bellamy, Kevin Killian, Lynn Rapoport and Trina Robbins.

Horizontal RuleTo learn more about The Diary of a Teenage Girl and its author Phoebe Gloeckner:

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