‘The Diary of a Teenage Girl’ Rare… Raw…Remarkable

Sex sells tickets at the box-office. Usually, the sex that is being sold is young women objectified by men in pursuit of one thing. Movies that tackle life, mind, and growing up as 15-year-old girl are extremely rare. The Diary of a Teenage Girl is that kind of a picture, and it is sensational.

It is 1976, a year besieged with horrid wallpaper and wall-to-wall coverage of the Patty Hearst abduction. Minnie Goetze, a 15-year old portrayed by the remarkable actress Bel Powley, sits on the sofa next to her mother’s (Kristen Wiig) boyfriend. She wonders if Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard) had touched her breasts by accident or not. Minnie’s heart is thundering and her head is racing a mile a minute. Surprisingly, her thoughts are motivated by sex, and the thought of losing her virginity to Monroe.

Monroe and Minnie become lovers in the tumultuous early going of The Diary Of A Teenage Girl. I’m certain this will immediately turn off some, but let me say if you think that this movie is about Monroe being predator then you are underestimating its complexity. Goetze’s sexual energy sets the tone for the film: both are serious and unpredictable.

Diary is the feature film debut for writer/director Marielle Heller. She adapted it from Phoebe Glockner’s graphic novel/commix/diary, which was published in 2002. In the book, Gloeckner’s alter ego, Minnie, had way more erotic encounters than the film can touch on in its 101 minutes. Heller makes a few tweaks, but they appear minor. She directs this film with a raw and unapologetic eye. I was both uncomfortable and entranced from beginning to end.

One of the most telling moments in the film is when Minnie confesses, “I want a body pressed up next to me, just to know that I’m really here.” The film boldly asks whether or not society leads young ladies to believe that self worth and sexual activity go hand and hand. The diary becomes a secret account of her torrid time with Monroe. As I’m sure you figured out, the secret cannot stay hidden; though, once it’s out, the movie is far from over.

Kristen Wiig gives the best performance of her acting career. Her shining moment has to be when she stumbles upon Minnie’s taped account of her illicit activities with Monroe. What stood out to me was not what was said in that moment but what was implied. As the tape is playing, Wig holds this look of devastation and guilt for the innocence that her eldest child has now lost. It’s that type of authenticity that ramps the emotional core of this movie up tenfold and is big reason why this film is so successful.

The Diary of a Teenage Girl is rife with realistic and heartfelt performances, but the movie truly needed a captivating performance from Bel Powley, which it got. Powley, who was 21 at the time of filming, is truly convincing as a young teen: full of devastating passion, indecision, and all consuming desires. Just the mere oscillation of emotions throughout the film take you down a tumultuous time period in a young women’s life and it’s a scary place.

You get the feeling watching this film that we are witnessing the rise of a star. It’s not out of the question to include Powley in the Best Actress conversation around Oscar time.  The film is harsh but astute, and in the end Minnie realizes that loving yourself is best type of revolution. What a message for young women everywhere.


Dewey Singleton - Film Critic
Dewey Singleton - Film Critic
I'm a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and have been doing reviews for many years. My views on film are often heard in markets such as Atlanta, Houston, and satellite radio. My wife often tolerates my obsession for all things film related and two sons are at an age now where 'Trolls' is way cooler than dad. Follow me on twitter @mrsingleton.