Acquired by Vertigo Films after its glitzy Sundance premiere earlier this year, The Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015) – based on Phoebe Gloeckner’s comic novel of which was loosely inspired by her own life – is a provocative, candid and funny account of one self-aware teens awkward but liberating transition from childhood to womanhood and all the many bumps along the way. Minnie (Bel Powley) has recently lost her virginity – that day, in fact. The lucky suitor happens to be her mother’s long-term boyfriend Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård). Their affair alights something deep down inside of Minnie, sending her on an exhilarating and devastating pursuit of herself without any limitations.
With its slippery central plot thread that pushes statutory rape to the fore, The Diary of a Teenage Girl could easily have turned out differently. Under the assured command of writer-director Marielle Heller, however, it avoids the dangers and instead wins over in bucket loads. The script tenderly, yet forcefully captures the undiluted and explosive storm that is adolescence; Minnie empowered by her newfound freedom and sexuality, yet confused and weary all the same. To her, it’s positive and forward-moving, which can’t help but rub off on the audience. As much as it’s a coming-of-age drama, Heller infuses her debut feature with an abundance of flair to set it apart.
Heller’s direction oozes confidence from every corner and brims with style (the free-wheeling 1970s setting of San Francisco helps to take the heat off the troubling nature of Minnie’s drug, alcohol and sex consumption) and the film is captured in a beautifully hazy luminescence by cinematographer Brandon Trost. There’s a certain sophistication awarded to the film as a result. This carries over into the performances, which are superb. Powley as the lead carries it with a sure-handedness that feeds into Minnie and spurs on much of her progressive attitude and actions. Wiig and Skarsgård are equally impressive, the latter of which handed a difficult task – one that he always has under his grasp. Heller has made a timeless film about finding oneself. The act of coming of age is scary, daunting and sore on the mind, yet it’s one that allows us to define who we are. The Diary of a Teenage Girl taps into this and runs with it. It’s wonderfully executed; sharp, significant and comic in more ways than one. Powley is the real find though, and should have a long acting career.