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With: Bel Powley, Kristen Wiig, Alexander Skarsgard, Christopher Meloni, Austin Lyon, Quinn Nagle
Written by: Marielle Heller, based on a novel by Phoebe Gloeckner
Directed by: Marielle Heller
MPAA Rating: R for strong sexual content including dialogue, graphic nudity, drug use, language and drinking - all involving teens
Running Time: 102
Date: 08/14/2015

The Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Sex Tapes

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Based on the 2002 illustrated novel by Phoebe Gloeckner, The Diary of a Teenage Girl tells a story that's part sexual awakening and part disturbing borderline sexual abuse. But because it focuses purely on the emotions of the situation — and avoids casting any blame or issuing any opinions — it becomes something quite impressive. It gets inside a tough situation. To tell the truth, I wasn't quite sure I liked it upon my first viewing, but I find I have been thinking about it quite a bit, and I think it's worth checking out.

Minnie Goetze (Bel Powley) is a 15 year-old living in San Francisco in the 1970s. Her mother, Charlotte (Kristen Wiig) is a free spirit who mostly ignores her daughter, focusing instead on her series of boyfriends, the latest one being Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard). Like most 15 year-olds, she's uncertain about just about everything but doesn't want to let on. She doesn't see herself as attractive, though many of the boys around her would disagree. She likes drawing cartoons and she decides to make a cassette tape version of a diary, starting with her first sexual encounter.

That encounter is with Monroe. He carelessly lets his hand fall on her chest while they're watching TV, and it plants the seed of sex in her mind. She drops hints when she can, and Monroe eventually succumbs. He knows it's wrong, but he says she has bewitched him and he can't keep his hands off. Minnie fancies herself in love and thinks the whole thing is bliss. She begins seeing herself as a sexual being and spends most of her time ruminating about it.

The movie was written and directed by first-timer Marielle Heller, who has worked as an actress. It's an admirable debut. As well as the film's emotional resonance, it has a potent physical one as well. It revels in the feel of the 1970s, when things had a shabby, lived-in feel and information was not as readily available as it is today. In a Haight Street comic book shop, Minnie meets the cartoonist Aline Kominsky (R. Crumb's wife) and imagines conversations with her in her head, getting "advice" and other bits of wisdom. It creates an entire world for Minnie, and because her sexual feelings are pure, the film gets away with it.

It's not quite so easy to forgive Monroe, but Skarsgard gives a very brave performance in the role, and he seems more like a man who has made a mistake and can't help himself than an evil man or a hurtful man. Wiig, who is already one of my favorite performers, is now starting to prove herself as an accomplished dramatic actress, and her performance as the selfish mom is immersive and transformative. With no help from her parents, it's no wonder that Minnie is now in charge of her own sexual awakening. As the movie ends, she is not damaged. She seems to have accepted everything that has happened to her as a valuable lesson, but one that will help her become a stronger person.

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