Lead actress Bel Powley shines in this unorthodox coming-of-age story
The traditional coming-of-age story has been told many times in many ways, but with a recurring trend of often centering on a young man. Director Marielle Heller has adapted the novel by Phoebe Gloeckner to tell the story of 15-year-old Minnie Goetze as she explores and documents a sexual relationship with her mother’s boyfriend. With the backdrop of 1970s San Francisco and the drugs and music scene that come with it, Diary of a Teenage Girl is an unabashedly honest twist on the typical coming-of-age narrative.
The subtitle to Gloeckner’s novel reads “An Account in Words and Pictures,” and although this is omitted from the title of the film, the concept is still implemented. Reminiscent of Andrea Dorfman’s Heartbeat – a favourite of mine from last year’s Sackville Film Society lineup – Diary of a Teenage Girl features Minnie’s drawings coming to life as animations which actively take part in the film. Not only does this provide an aesthetically unique element, but it also further dives into the mind and innermost thoughts of the titular teenage girl. It develops her character in ways often ignored in the majority of roles written about young women and girls.
With a relatively small cast, this film could not have been nearly as compelling without the exceptional performance of Bel Powley as Minnie. This is not to discredit a well written script and adapted screenplay, but there was an honesty and familiarity to Powley’s performance which carried the film. From audio-diary voiceover to her onscreen performance, Minnie holds many destructive beliefs about herself that plague the minds of many teenage girls. She is naïve, yet determined; self-conscious, yet confident—a complex performance for an equally complex character.
Despite a charming title and at-times quirky illustrations, the film deals with some heavy themes and explores a wildly unhealthy relationship between a young girl and her mother’s much-older boyfriend. Though the film’s central relationship is so clearly inappropriate, the story of a young girl discovering herself beyond societal pressures of sexuality is compelling and nuanced. Diary of a Teenage Girl does an impeccable job of portraying society’s problem of equating love with sex. When Minnie just wants to be loved, her first reaction is to enter into a sexual relationship, despite obvious red flags.
Seeing Minnie’s transformation from seeking love and affection to commanding her own life is realistic and endearing. A largely untold story which seems to understand the gritty ups and (many) downs of loving yourself as a teenager, Diary of a Teenage Girl was a welcome addition to this semester’s Film Society lineup.