Writer/Director Marielle Heller’s debut feature film Diary of a Teenage Girl will, I hope, be regarded as a significant coming of age film for girls everywhere for a very long time. It also happens to be the first in a long list of 52 films, one a week, by women directors that I watched. I could not have picked a better film to begin with.
‘Diary of a Teenage Girl’ stars Bel Powley as Minnie, a fifteen year old girl who is quickly discovering her sexuality. Minnie is conscious of how much growing up she has to do, but like most teenagers, she also believes that she is ready for everything that life has to offer. Predominantly, that equates to having sex. The only slight issue is that Minnie’s choice of sexual partner happens to be her mother’s boyfriend Monroe, played by Alexander Skarsgard. Minnie is besotted with Monroe, and after he reciprocates her lust – they begin to sleep together. We watch as Minnie falls in ‘love’, questions love, questions sex and ultimately begins the arduous journey towards adulthood. ‘Diary of a Teenage Girl’ explores the shameful sexuality which women experience, the difficult relationships that we have during our teens and manages to make a pretty impressive stand on pretty significant issues for young girls without the need to shout the message out loud.
Minnie is proud and confident – rare traits to see in teenage girls on screen. There is a trope prevalent in our young female protagonists (when they are protagonists, because that is even rarer) that they must be somehow insecure, unsure of their place in the world. They are timid, eager to please or receive compliments. They are generally passive, standing in opposition to the active and confident young male protagonists in cinema. Naturally Minnie isn’t completely happy with the way she looks, and she certainly isn’t the most confident person in the world but what’s so great about Minnie is that she knows what she wants. And she believes she deserves to have it. Most of Minnie’s desires revolve around sex and she doesn’t for a second believe that she isn’t entitled to have sex if she wants it. There’s no shame. She kind of reminded me of a live action Tina Belcher, with less focus on butts. She expresses her sadness at coming to terms with the fact that she is ugly, and so she needs to have sex with Monroe as he is the only person all will ever want to do with her. This, to Minnie, is a fact not an opinion and so even her in her private diary entries she is very objective about the whole situation. She may be sad, yes, but she is also a realist and takes control of the situation she believes herself to be in.
One of the most memorable moments for me was the scene where Minnie picks herself apart naked in front of her mirror. It bore a huge resemblance to Chantal Akerman’s 2007 short ‘Mirror’, where we watch a woman in front of a mirror telling the audience every aspect of her body that is ‘not right’. Minnie does the same thing and again, it is an objective stance. She is not emotional about the process. It speaks volumes about how women are taught to perceive and hate their bodies from an early age, relating every part of themselves to their sexual appeal rather than self-confidence.
Whilst the relationship between Minnie and Monroe was obviously deeply disturbing on many levels (step-father/daughter, peodophilia etc), it was not the relationship that I found most interesting. It was clear, to me at least, that Heller wanted to discuss ideas about consent within the film, without pointing fingers at either Minnie or Monroe. ‘Diary of a Teenage Girl’ is actually pretty spot on in it’s representation of how these circumstances are not always as clear cut as we would like them to be, whilst also reminding us of how young Minnie really is despite how self-assured she comes across. No, the relationship that I most enjoyed in the film was between Minnie and her mother Charlotte (Kristin Wiig). They portrayed the awkwardness of female relationships at that age and the way in which both Minnie and Charlotte felt completely out of touch with one another. Particularly the scene where Charlotte tells Minnie she has a lot of potential, but she needs to put some make-up on once in awhile. We can see Charlotte’s intentions are good, but the two of them have an immense difficulty in communicating with each other – partly brought on by Charlotte’s selfish lifestyle and the fact that Minnie is a fifteen year old girl, after all. I absolutely loved that her mother was there for her at the end of the film and although their relationship is far from perfect, it was so wonderful to see a mother-daughter relationship on-screen that was not completely destroyed or represented as destructive.
It was shot beautifully – complete with 1970s aesthetic. Highly, highly recommend.
as part of #52FilmsByWomen in 2016. See my full list of films so far here