Both teenage and female sexuality presents something of a taboo in cinema – as, while the latter theme is barely explored on the big screen, the former is most commonly dealt with in comedic circumstances, and from the perspective of a male protagonist. Marielle Heller’s The Diary of a Teenage Girl, however, tackles both – and with a level of sincerity and curiosity that makes for such unique, compelling viewing. Here’s a film that proves that self-discovery, insecurity and sexual discovery is not limited to just one gender.
Our story takes place in San Francisco during the 1970s. Flares are in fashion, moustaches are seen as cool outside the month of November – and Minnie (Bel Powley) has just had sex for the very first time. Though enlightened by this new discovery, there is a slight problem – which is that the man whom she had lost her virginity to, just happens to be her mother Charlotte’s (Kristen Wiig) boyfriend, Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard). Though the young girl has a fervent, carnal desire to explore, the lure of the one man she shouldn’t be sleeping with proves to be too strong, as she keeps returning back to Monroe – behind her mother’s back.
To help bring this well-crafted protagonist to life, Powley completely shines – with a performance free of inhibition, and yet bursting at the seams with charisma. It’s essential this be the case, as Minnie attracts a host of people, be it men or women, and we need to be able to believe in this being the case, and her beguiling presence makes this easy. She also shows so many subtle changes to her demeanour, which is especially impressive given the expansive timeline, where we witness Minnie change so significantly. It’s a credit to the actress that she can remain so understated and yet so perceptible in her execution.
On a more negative note, the animated interludes are overly whimsical and takes the viewer out of the story at times. Though that being said, when it comes to some of the feelings and emotions that our protagonist is going through – feelings so many of us can identify with from when we were that blissful and impressionable during our formative years – sometimes an explosion of colour can explain such sensations in a way that words simply aren’t able to.