"The Diary of a Teenage Girl" revels in discomfort and brutal honesty

Tuesday, September 8, 2015 - 6:45pm
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The Diary of a Teenage Girl

B+

Archer Gray Productions

Michigan Theater & Quality 16

“The Diary of a Teenage Girl” is raw, in your face and unapologetically uncomfortable. It builds its aura around the dynamic of what is considered acceptable and socially unacceptable and, by doing so, audiences succumb to watching, following and loving a perfectly casted story of discovery and social acceptability.

Speaking in generalizations, the world has “normal” people and “abnormal” people. However, despite being “normal,” we all have the stray abnormal thought. We might keep it to ourselves and ask “Why did I just think that?” Our normalness certainly outweighs our stray moments of abnormality. “The Diary of a Teenage Girl” is the culmination of those stray, atypical moments.

Minnie Goetze (Bel Powley, “M.I. High”), an average suburban girl growing up in 1970’s San Francisco, opens the film with “I had sex today. Holy shit.” Minnie is the movie’s focal point. She, just like most people, can be both extremely self-involved and self-loathing, depicted through scenes in which she documents her diary on a cassette recorder. She has bad bangs and thinks about sex almost exclusively. And the thing with Minnie — viewers have absolutely every right to dislike like her for all of the aforementioned reasons, but it’s the balance of all her flawed characteristics that allow the audience to connect with her. Moreover, Powly’s portrayal is ethereal, bringing a social awkwardness and light humor to the, at times, extremely dark plot.

Following Minnie’s declaration of her non-existent virginity, time lapses back and we learn that she lost her virginity to her mother’s (Kristen Wiig, “Bridesmaids”) boyfriend, Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard, “True Blood”). This point in the film’s synopsis invites a cringe, but the onscreen romance between Monroe and Minnie is nearly the opposite. He may be 35 and she 15, but there’s something behind Minnie’s bangs, something immediately after her self-obsession and immediately before her self-loathing that pushes their love away from deplorable and toward something more tender.

Aside from Powly, Wiig is the only standout performance. (Skarsgard does well, but the depth of his character is minimal in comparison.) For the first hour of the film, Minnie’s mother, Charlotte, is drunk and high, throwing parties (which 15-year-old Minnie is delighted to take part in). Even while Minnie is having sex with Charlotte’s boyfriend, Charlotte is often overshadowed by what is happening on screen between Minnie and Munroe. Charlotte, at first oblivious to the affair, eventually discovers Minnie’s diary and tearfully asks, “How long?” after which Minnie leaves home for several days. Her moment of humanity comes as she embraces Minnie upon her return. She hugs, cries, kisses and chokes out, “I need to never talk about this again.” It wasn’t an “I forgive you” or an “It’s OK” typically said after fuck-ups. Despite the movie circling Minnie’s self-discovery, it’s that line that rings as the most honest throughout the already candid 102 minutes.

“The Diary of a Teenage Girl” isn’t kind to its viewers. It says everything we don’t want to hear and does everything we don’t want to do — which is exactly why it’s necessary. If no one ever slept with their mom’s boyfriend, how would we know what would work out? Minnie discovered herself in an unconventional 1970’s fashion, but if it weren’t for her, would we know how to shake someone’s hand and think “I’m better than you, you son of a bitch?”