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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
To learn more about The Diary of a Teenage Girl and its author Phoebe Gloeckner:
- Visit the official Sony Pictures web site.
- IMDb.com’s listing for The Diary of a Teenage Girl.
- Follow The Diary of a Teenage Girl on Facebook and Twitter.
- Phoebe Gloeckner’s web site.
- Read more by Phoebe Gloeckner at Amazon and Indiebound.
- Follow Phoebe Gloeckner on Twitter.
- Follow Bel Powley on Twitter.
- Hear Terry Gross interview author Phoebe Gloeckner and filmmaker Marielle Heller on the NPR Fresh Air podcast.
- Read Peggy Orenstein’s discussion with Phoebe Gloeckner about Minnie from the New York times just before Diary was first published.