Movie Review: Diary of a Teenage Girl

By Emma Klein ’17

As a former high school outsider with a preference for doodling in notebooks over working on my science fair project, I was thrilled to meet Minnie Goetze, the protagonist in this summer’s indie film The Diary of a Teenage Girl. The movie is directed by Marielle Heller and based on a graphic novel by Phoebe Gloeckner, which in turn was based on her own diaries growing up.

Bel Powley does a magnificent job in her role as Minnie, a passionate fifteen year old discovering her sexuality and documenting her emotional teenage journey through cassette tape and India ink. The film begins with Minnie walking down the streets of 1970s San Francisco with a sly, confident grin. “I had sex today. Holy shit,” she says, beaming. She goes on to describe the encounter with, of all people, her mother’s 35-year-old boyfriend, Monroe. What unfolds is a story of teenage vulnerability and passion as Minnie pushes herself to her limits. As her relationship with Monroe progresses and deteriorates, Minnie finds refuge in drugs, sex, and above all else, her art.

Powley is unlike any Disney or CW female that often takes up the screen in films or TV about teenagers. She is petite, with a round face and even rounder eyes that heighten her youthful appearance. So much of the movie deals with her trying to be a grown-up, but it’s painfully clear that she has a lot to figure out. This may sound trite, but it’s lovely to see a teenager making real mistakes as reckless as sleeping with her mother’s boyfriend, dropping acid, or pretending to be prostitutes in a bar with her best friend. When the secret of her affair implodes, it is gut wrenching to watch Minnie wail in her bathtub, and then face her devastated mother (played by an ever-wonderful Kirsten Wiig).

One of my favorite moments in the film is when Minnie is standing naked in front of a mirror and we hear her say: “Sometimes I look in the mirror and I can’t believe what I see.” It’s moments like this that make Diary a movie unlike any I’ve seen about adolescence. It’s incredibly insular. Viewers can take in all of her insecurities and weaknesses. In many films, the voice over and other forms of expositional thought would not work, but it is the bread and butter of Minnie’s story. There is also some amazing cartoon work within the movie, in particular one scene in which Minnie imagines herself as a cartoon giant, walking all over San Francisco and wreaking havoc. Watching this film, it is so easy to remember what it felt like to be a teenage girl, how I felt abnormal and constantly worried about “fitting in.”

Lastly, The Diary of a Teenage Girl has a kick-ass soundtrack. I also have a weakness for movies that can transport me to a time and place in which I’ve never been, and the entire look (and sound) of the film captures the ’70s in a beautiful, sincere way. Listen to my favorite track, “Crying Laughing Loving Lying” by Labi Siffre, below, and if you have the chance, definitely watch the film!

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