Main cast: Bel Powley (Minnie Goetze), Kristen Wiig (Charlotte Worthington), Alexander Skarsgård (Monroe Rutherford), and Christopher Meloni (Pascal MacCorkill)
Director: Marielle Heller
Minnie, at fifteen, is only starting to discover herself. On the emo side, like all teens tend to be, she lives her mother Charlotte, a librarian who defies stereotyping by generally being a negligent, boozy mother who often acts like she’s a single lady. Charlotte has a boyfriend, Monroe, who is earnest but a bit of a loser when it comes to doing anything halfway decent for himself.
The story begins when Minnie decides that she wants to lose her virginity. She worries that she is not attractive for anyone, and yet she craves affection from another person. Perhaps this is something she subconsciously picked from watching the way her mother behaves around men – Charlotte does tend to be a bit emotionally needy – and when the opportunities arises, she awkwardly tries to hit on Monroe. The next thing she knows, Monroe and she are having an affair.
Meanwhile, Minnie also tries to explore sexual boundaries with other kids more of her age (Monroe is in his thirties), and records all her thoughts into an audio diary. She also explores her creative side, drawing comics that parallel her experiences and emotions. Will anything good come out for her antics?
The Diary of a Teenage Girl is a movie that should be watched without judgment, or else you may never get over the whole Monroe-Minnie thing. The characters here are not easily pigeonholed into good or bad people, and, like a typical teenager’s life and thoughts, things can get messy here, not necessarily in a bad way. You shouldn’t expect morality tales or any deep messages either – at the end of the day, we learn that teenagers are selfish, self-absorbed, and confused. Not exactly groundbreaking, that, except perhaps to folks who have forgotten what it was like to be a teenager, heh.
This is a very compelling watch, though. Bel Powley is beautiful and charismatic in a manner that defies the typical conventions of beauty, and she holds her own very well in her role of the protagonist in his movie. In many ways, the adult characters are superficial, stereotypical even, but that’s okay, this is supposed to be a movie through Minnie’s jaundiced view point, so it can be said that we can’t expect a teen to see the world in such deep, profound manner. Indeed, Minnie here is such a typical teen – she practices her sexual wiles, gets confused by the responses she gets as well as the emotions she feels as a result, and then realizes that she’s not quite prepared to deal with what happens when Monroe begins taking their affair to a deeper, more emotional level than she’s comfortable with. The poor girl actually panics when he starts talking about how they can start dating openly when she turns 18, blah blah blah.
There is humor here, but it’s woven gracefully into the narrative along with angst and pathos in a manner that never feels heavy-handed. There are some nudity and sex, but nothing too explicit – in fact, the nudity is rather clinical, come to think of it. Alas, while Bel Powley bares everything, Alexander Skarsgård only does obscured nudity or wears white briefs, so the double standards when it comes to nudity still apply.
If I have a complaint, it’s that the movie is a bit more forgettable than it should be. Marielle Heller, who also wrote the script loosely based on Phoebe Gloeckner’s semi-illustrated book of the same name, doesn’t dwell too much into the psychology behind the characters’ motivations. Normally, this is fine, as it allows the viewers to form their own interpretation of the characters’ motivations and behavior. But here, things can end up a bit too superficial, especially as the take-home message – kids can be self-absorbed and they can use people, selfishly, for their own gratification – is something that should not come as a revelation to anyone who has ever been a teenager. The fact that the script scrubs off the more sordid elements in the book only adds to the antiseptic feel of the movie. The Diary of a Teenage Girl is a pretty absorbing movie, but ultimately it’s a bit too safe and tame for its own good.