Film review: Diary of a Teenage Girl

A timeless coming-of-age tale of a sexually-active teen girl in the 70s

(Sony Picture Classics)

(Sony Picture Classics)

“Diary of a Teenage Girl” is getting a lot of buzz since its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. Critics have been raving about this artsy indie flick that’s all about sexual empowerment.
The film follows 15-year-old Minnie Goetze as she experiments with art, sex and drugs in 1970s San Francisco. She lives with her mother, her mother’s boyfriend and her sister. The film lets us in on Minnie’s perspective as she goes through puberty and becomes interested in boys.

The film is based on the graphic novel of the same name by Phoebe Gloeckner. Director Marielle Heller manages to convey the non-linear narrative and complex style of the novel using voiceovers and trippy sequences that merge animated versions of Minnie’s art and live action shots. These elements make the film feel like a piece of art in itself.

Even though the film shows young Minnie doing some potentially dangerous things, the film doesn’t feel like a cautionary afterschool special. It has debuted in a perfect time for the subject matter, as more and more people are protesting against slut shaming. In “Diary of a Teenage Girl” Minnie decides she likes sex, and instead of that being a good thing or a bad thing, it is just something that happens. The empowerment that Minnie feels is something we rarely see in young girls in film.

Young Minnie initiates losing her virginity to her mother’s 35-year-old boyfriend, which raises questions of statutory rape, but the film doesn’t judge either party. As a viewer, as much as you want to take on the feminist ideals of the film, it can be hard to watch such a young character having sex, especially with a much older man.

In the starring role is Bel Powley, who more than holds her own starring opposite heavyweights Kristen Wiig and Alexander Skarsgard. Powley masterfully portrays the emotional ups and downs Minnie goes through.

The film perfectly captures the confusion that everyone goes through during puberty, and shows how that confusion is perfectly okay. Powley expresses the yearning that every young person eventually has to be wanted by another.

Even though the story took place in the ‘70s, there’s something about coming-of-age stories that makes the details unimportant. Instead of really influencing the story, the setting just adds to the artistic value of the movie.

“Diary of a Teenage Girl” is a beautiful feminist indie film that normalizes the sexual evolution of a teenage girl.

The film was shown by the Kamloops Film Society on Oct. 22 as a part of their fall series at the Paramount Theatre. The next film will be “Infinitely Polar Bear,” starring Mark Ruffalo, on Oct. 29.