Adapted from American comic artist/novelist Phoebe Gloeckner’s edgy ‘graphic’ graphic novel of the same name, The Diary Of A Teenage Girl is a dark, often comedic, reminder that early seventies San Francisco’s free love and drugs post-hippy burnout was a confused time for America’s infantilised alt. culture adults and the youth they spawned. When viewed through the optimistic, naïve eyes of 15 year old Minnie (British actor Bel Powley) as she fast tracks herself into adulthood, it soon becomes clear that screenwriter/director Marielle Heller’s vision is to give you a movie that’s honest and uncompromising. Be warned dreamers this is no cosy fairy tale about sexual and narcotic awakenings. It’s full of unpleasant people and nothing they strive for has much point beyond selfish desire. Be warned adult men you’re going to be confronted by the binary notion, based on what Minnie experiences and learns through the film, you’ll sleep with any female with a pulse if she makes herself available. Be warned parents – teenage girls are a law unto themselves.
Support to the excellent Powley comes in the shape of Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids) as her lost mother, Charlotte. The welfare of her children plays second fiddle to own hedonism and passionate love affair she clings to with the blonde no hoper boyfriend Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard – True Blood). Wiig’s performance excellently conveys the difficulties of parenting when the vacuum forms between you and your child as they grow up and grow apart from you. This schism is cemented when Minnie sleeps with Monroe – a man more than twice here age. It’s a shocking and uncomfortable surprise to see a film go there. It’s clearly wrong from both a legal and moral standpoint, but Heller leaves the audience to ponder this themselves, because the episode isn’t used to damage or break Minnie so we can watch her rebuild her life – far from it. She’s liberated by Monroe and crams many more illicit experiences into her 15th year on this planet. The diary she keeps, recorded to tape, means we get to hear first hand all that is swimming around in her head. It’s a fascinating, voyeuristic experience.
Gloeckner’s original Robert Crumb style, but female point of view cartoon vision is never far from the screen. Heller uses flourishes of animation to capture the imagined wish fulfilment mixed with confusion of Minnie.
Like the 1971 true story bestseller ‘Go Ask Alice’ (by Anon), an equally dark portrayal of sex and drugs experimentation through the eyes of a 15 year old girl,The Diary Of A Teenage Girl excels in the brutal, unapologetic honesty that people learn and grow through experience. Some fall by the wayside. Others prosper. It’s neither fair nor logical, but that’s life.
Without being too sexually graphic, it does feel a little too close to having watched a grubby porno at times, but isn’t teenage sex grubby? However, what Gloeckner/Heller’s story does best is maintain notion that Minnie is leading this charge – for better or for worse. There are grim moments for sure – Minnie and friend in a public toilet with two men spring to mind. But Minnie instigates it and, having learnt another lesson about adults, wont be doing it again. There is beauty in there too. When she and Monroe experiment with LSD it’s interesting that her eyes and mind are opened to things of wonder. Whereas he is overtaken by the nightmare that his dead end life is going nowhere fast.
Ultimately, Minnie represents the next generation guillotining the head off the last vestiges of the baby boomer’s hippy dream from sixties. In the end, she proves, and understands, better than her mother, that as fun it was, excess is a fool’s errand and you must be accountable and take responsibility for yourself to survive. Though The Diary Of A Teenage Girl is a transgressive text it’s hard not to conclude the birth of conservatism nation isn’t far from the subtext of the denouement.
The Diary Of A Teenage Girl is available to watch now on We Are Colony. The film is released on DVD on January 11th.