by Dodie Bellamy

From the margins I have watched many phases in the development of The Diary of a Teenage Girl. In the late ’90s Phoebe Gloeckner, who was a mainstay in the creative circle I hung out in at that time, signed up for the writing workshop I teach in my living room during the summer. She brought in pages from her actual high school diary, using the workshop as a sort of litmus test, asking if the material was interesting, wondering what she could make of it. I remember being impressed with the intelligence and sensitivity of her journals, thinking, rather jealously, I sound like a total ditz in my own high school journals. When the book came out I was even more impressed by how skillfully Phoebe crafted the winding meanderings of her journal into a compelling narrative. I talked the San Francisco Chronicle into allowing me to review it, hiding the fact that I was a friend of the author. “Minnie is one of the most believable teenage protagonists ever written,” I wrote, “a complicated, contradictory child posing as a woman.” I taught the book in a grad writing seminar at San Francisco State, worried the students were going to rebel at reading an illustrated novel about a teen girl, but they loved it, even the guys. One woman in the class was a middle school teacher, and a student found the book on her desk and all of the girls in her class were reading it and loving it. I was again impressed that Phoebe could manage to produce something embraced by both grad writing students and teen girls.

Two women and one girl: Bel Powley, Phoebe Gloeckner and Minnie from Gloeckner's The Diary of a Teenage Girl.

Two women and one girl: Bel Powley, Phoebe Gloeckner and Minnie from Gloeckner’s The Diary of a Teenage Girl.

When I heard about the movie, I was hesitant. It would be so easy to screw up the uncompromising complexity of Phoebe’s novel. Happily, for the most part, given this is a film made for a mainstream audience, Marielle Heller has done a wonderful job protecting that complexity. Even though she keeps stepping into danger, Minnie is never portrayed as an agentless victim. Bel Powley is brilliant at steering Minnie towards ruin—and at remaining adorably childlike no matter how raunchy her behavior. Kristen Wiig is also wonderful as Minnie’s mother, evoking compassion while leading a fucked up, driven existence. Around the time the book came out, I met Phoebe’s mother. The first thing she said to me was, “I’m not as bad as Phoebe makes me out to be in her stories.” Watching Wiig’s charismatic performance, I thought—I bet Phoebe’s mother likes this portrayal of herself better. Alexander Skarsgård is totally dreamy—there’s no problem believing Minnie would fall in love with him—and his acting too is superb—I like that he’s portrayed as kind of a mess but not a bad guy. But perhaps somebody skeezier would have been better casting, somebody who would make the audience cringe a bit when he fucks Minnie, rather than fulfilling our collective desire for his acres of luscious naked flesh and boyish charm. I hope the movie is a big hit. It’s a much-needed antidote to all the sexual moralizing that’s being flung around these days.

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Dodie by Neil

Portrait by Neil LeDoux

Dodie Bellamy’s latest book is When the Sick Rule the World (via Amazon or Indiebound), from Semiotext(e). Her chapbook Barf Manifesto was named best book of 2009 under 30 pages by Time Out New York. Another chapbook, The Beating of Our Hearts, was included in the 2014 Whitney Biennial. With Kevin Killian she is editing for Nightboat Books Writers Who Love Too Much: New Narrative 1977-1997.

Also in this issue, read other reviews about  The Diary of a Teenage Girl by Janelle Hessig, Kevin Killian, Lynn Rapoport and Trina Robbins.Horizontal RuleTo learn more about The Diary of a Teenage Girl and its author Phoebe Gloeckner:


Read two critical perspectives on  The Salt of the Earth (Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, Wim Wenders, 2014), by Stephen Goldblatt and Ken Light.  Salt of the Earth opens Friday, April 3 at the Landmark Clay in San Francisco, the Landmark Shattuck in Berkeley, the Regency Cinemas in San Rafael, the CineArts @ Palo Alto Square in Palo Alto, Camera 7 in San José and the Century 16 in Pleasant Hill.
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