THE DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL (2015)
Starring Bel Powley, Alexander Skarsgård, Kristen Wiig, Christopher Meloni, Margarita Levieva, Madeleine Waters, Abby Wait, Quinn Nagle, Austin Lyon, Miranda Bailey, Carson Mell, John Parsons, Davy Clements, Charles Lewis III and David Fine.
Screenplay by Marielle Heller.
Directed by Marielle Heller.
Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics. 102 minutes. Rated R.
The film version of Phoebe Gloeckner ‘s graphic novel The Diary of a Teenage Girl is nearly as much of a hot mess as its lead character. Minnie (Bel Powley) is an anti-social, insecure, self-obsessed, drug-taking, pouty, sex-mad, anything goes fifteen-year-old girl who dreams of becoming a counter-culture cartoonist in mid-1970s San Francisco, all the while obsessing about sex and seducing her mom’s boyfriend and pretty much any other guy (or girl) she gets an opportunity with.
Which is fine in itself. Self-destructive young girls and their myriad of life mistakes are a fertile ground for storytellers. However, Minnie skirts awfully close to the line between innocent and wreckless, between sympathetic and unlikable. Perhaps it’s not even totally her fault, her mother (Kristen Wiig) is borderline negligent and Minnie’s best friend is all kinds of trouble. Dad is long gone and her ex-step-father (Christopher Meloni) is a pompous asshole who moved to New York and left the girls behind. Mom’s boyfriend (Alexander Skarsgård) is a flighty creep who finds nothing wrong with flirting with his girlfriend’s fifteen-year old daughter.
So perhaps Minnie never had a shot in life. However, despite pompously having an animated version of her mentor advise that dysfunction will only help her art, Minnie really goes the extra mile to make the absolute worst decision every single time. She tries to steal her mother’s boyfriend (literally telling him “I want you to fuck me” one night), she experiments with LSD, lesbianism and prostitution and she alienates pretty much everyone who ever cared about her.
It’s too bad, because filmmaker Marielle Heller did a pretty good job of capturing the vibe of San Francisco in the 70s, about eight years after the hippie paradise has become a squalid dream factory for losers and dreamers.
This film is obviously courting the fringe audience that embraced Terry Zwigoff’s Ghost World, Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor and the superb documentary Crumb. (R. Crumb is even listed as one of Minnie’s main inspirations as well as his wife, artist Aline Kominsky, and many of the animated sequences here are obviously greatly inspired by those artists’ work.)
Perhaps the moment that most strongly telegraphs the fact that The Diary of a Teenage Girl is just not working at selling its heroine has her finally living her dream of being an artist, selling her (frankly kind of awful) illustrations on North Beach for $0.50 a piece. One of her former sex partners (I can’t really call any of them lovers) happens to be jogging past and stops and tries awkwardly to make small talk and apologize for his part in their wrecked relationship. Minnie is perfectly pleasant on the outside, but she looks at him pointedly and thinks to herself (in voice over, so the audience will hear), “I am so much better than you.”
Now I know that this is supposed to be an important growth moment for the girl, but I’m not going to lie, when I heard her say that I felt overwhelmingly: no, she really isn’t. She’s no better than him at all. Yes, he was an adult and she was underage and there is no excuse for that part of the situation. However, just the fact that she is a confused young woman does not let her completely off the hook. She set about to seduce him. She kept coming back to him, throwing herself at him, grasping, crying, cajoling and manipulating him even when he was trying to cut things off. She obviously had no real particular love for him, in fact eventually it was apparently mainly hate-sex on her part, and yet her obsession with the guy nearly destroyed both of their lives. And then, when he finally gave in and tried to open up to the ridiculous possibility of a relationship with her, she dumped him flat.
It’s not easy for a film to get you to feel sorry for an admitted statutory rapist, but this film almost achieved that tricky goal. If nothing else, honestly, it sounds like they deserve each other.
I get that The Diary of a Teenage Girl is trying to be oh so edgy, and I have no doubt that a lot of fan-boys and critics will try to convince themselves that it is a masterpiece of youthful rebellion. Sadly, just like the main character, The Diary of a Teenage Girl‘s insurgence has a sheen of desperation. The movie is using shock and sex just in the hope that someone will like it.
Copyright ©2015 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: August 29, 2015.