The Diary of a Teenage Girl (Sony Pictures Classics, R)

diary-girl 75In a just world, Bel Powley would at least land an Oscar nomination for her performance here.




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It’s well known that teenage girls are the most looked down upon market for movies—you need not look any further than Twilight for proof—and even well prior to its opening I encountered multiple people scoffing at the idea that a film titled The Diary of a Teenage Girl might possibly be worth watching. Let’s just skip past how incredibly closed-minded and outright stupid this is and get right to the point—yes, The Diary of a Teenage Girl is very much worth watching, for any number of reasons, and one need not be a teenage girl to completely enjoy it (and, be advised that if you yourself are not a teenage girl, seeing this film with one to whom you’re related to will probably make you squirm to death, as it’s full of frank depictions of sex and drugs and bad behavior coming from adults and teenagers alike). It’s been hugely acclaimed since its debut at the Sundance Film Festival this past January, and is also unique in that it’s the rare film that was both written and directed by a woman (sad that this is rare, but, well, it is).

The Diary of a Teenage Girl’s title character is Minnie (played by the British 23-year old Bel Powley, who is new to American films), a girl coming of age in 1970s San Francisco. She lives with her nice-but-too-uninvolved and self-obsessed mother Charlotte (Kristen Wiig) and her (Charlotte’s) young-Cary-Elwes-looking boyfriend Monroe (True Blood’s Alexander Skarsgård). Most of the narrative arc of the film comes from the fact that Monroe and Minnie start a clandestine affair, the instigator of which is potentially up for debate, but really there’s a lot more going on here than just that. It’s an understatement to call this one a coming of age movie; it’s as if all of Minnie’s life experiences are condensed down to the single year or so of her life that this film covers.

Much writing about the film has acknowledged its alignment with the work of R. Crumb. This comes largely from Minnie’s fascination with the work of Aline Kominsky, aka Crumb’s wife, and also that Minnie herself is an artist, and her work looks similar to Crumb’s (not to mention that Minnie herself looks like she could be a Crumb drawing come to life, but with the big eyes of an anime character). Beyond this, though, it plunks in nicely in the Crumb-related film canon; the one pre-existing film it perhaps bears the most similarities to is Terry Zwigoff’s 2001 film Ghost World—remember that Zwigoff is a personal friend of Crumb’s and the director of the great 1994 documentary Crumb. Apart from the various Crumb connections, another thing The Diary of a Teenage Girl brings to mind is, on a much more distant plane, TV’s Arrested Development—the depiction of Minnie and Monroe’s relationship plays out not unlike how we might imagine Ann and Gob’s to have in season three, if only they’d depicted that on screen.

While much credit should be afforded to writer/director Marielle Heller, here making her debut as such (she’d previously appeared as an actress in stuff like A Walk Among the Tombstones and MacGruber, in which she acted alongside Wiig) adapting Phoebe Gloeckner’s semi-graphic memoir, the real find of The Diary of a Teenage Girl is Ms. Powley. This is a challenging role on many levels, and she’s a whiz in switching on a dime between a mortified, girlish teenager and full-fledged womanliness. In a just world, she’d at least land an Oscar nomination for her performance here, and then be offered countless other complex roles to follow this one up with. | Pete Timmermann

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