First published in The Big Picture Magazine
The best parents loosen the ties to allow for a little self discovery, but where’s the line? Overly strict parenting makes a casualty of confidence, that key attribute of the successful, whereas complete freedom comes with a price of its own.
This balance tips too much towards the latter for Minnie (Bel Powley), The Diary of a Teenage Girl‘s protagonist. Adapted from Phoebe Gloeckner’s autobiographical novel of the same name, Marielle Heller’s directorial debut colourfully parades themes of sex and self discovery, those endlessly fascinating Bildungsroman staples, through a stylish vision of 1970s San Francisco in a frank portrait of a teenage girl’s defining experiences.
Minnie’s bohemian, faux-feminist mother (Kristen Wiig) ushers her into sexual maturity far too quickly, yet flickers with insecurity when confronted with her daughter’s emerging sexuality. Meanwhile, Minnie is irresistibly drawn to her mother’s lover, Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård), and allows herself to be seduced by him, setting her off onto an emotionally unstable path of confused desire.
She soon immerses herself in the behaviours of her role models, indulging in casual sex and drugs, with Twisted Sisters artist Aline Kominsky as her guide. Accompanying animation spills over onto the screen in the form of Sara Gunnarsdottir’s illustrations; these decorate the live action by articulating Minnie’s body angst and thrills in swirls and splashes of Robert Crumb-esque psychedelia.
Minnie’s inadequately served by the absent, highly self-absorbed adults in her life, yet Heller doesn’t go so far as to vilify them for their failings. Instead, some very problematic contemporary cultural rubbing points – such as intergenerational sex, relaxed parenting, drugs and prostitution – are left refreshingly free from didacticism.
It’s contentious territory, even for the hedonistic seventies, yet an undoubtable success of the film lies with its refusal to condemn weakness, sex and human failings. Instead, it offers up a satisfying depiction of adolescence, and the desires of a burgeoning artist. Refreshingly, thankfully, teenage desire and female sexuality is never sensationalised, and Minnie is never depicted as glamorous, or more mature than an average 15 year old. Most importantly, though, it’s a rare example of positive female representation in mainstream cinema.