By Mark Olsen
Los Angeles Times.
Looking at someone else’s diary is deeply personal, a bit shocking and charged with the feeling of seeing something for the first time. “The Diary of a Teenage Girl” generates a similar response as it opens the book on adolescent female sexuality with a raw, intimate, emotional candor rarely depicted on screen.
Set in San Francisco in 1976, as the Patty Hearst bank robbery trial plays out on TV and lingering post-hippie vibes mingle with burgeoning punk bluntness, the film opens with 15-year-old Minnie Goetze exclaiming excitedly to her tape recorder diary that she just had sex for the first time. As it turns out, her partner was 35-year-old Monroe, the boyfriend of her mother, Charlotte. As their obviously doomed affair plays itself out, Minnie discovers her artistic voice as an illustrator and a newfound sense of personal self-possession.
Directed by first-time filmmaker Marielle Heller, who also wrote the adaptation of the 2002 illustrated novel by Phoebe Gloeckner on which the movie is based, “Diary” features a breakout performance by Bel Powley as Minnie, as well as powerful turns by Alexander Skarsgard as Monroe and Kristen Wiig as Charlotte.
The film’s unblinking, nonjudgmental depiction of Minnie’s sexual desire and personal awakening is a rarity. Critic Amy Taubin in Film Comment called “Diary,” which opens Aug. 7, “revelatory and revolutionary” and declared Minnie “the most forthrightly lewd and courageously sexual adolescent female protagonist ever beheld in an American movie.” Though it covers terrain similar to “Little Darlings,” “Foxes,” “An Education,” “Blue Is the Warmest Color” or “The To Do List,” female-focused coming-of-age tales are very much the exception to the norm.
“Teenage girls are represented really poorly; I think we as a society are afraid of teenage girls,” Heller, 35, said during a recent interview in Los Angeles. “We’re definitely afraid of their sexuality, and so teenage girls are either shown in this really virginal state or this really slutty state, but it’s never what it actually felt like to be a teenage girl as a full human.