Review: The Diary of a Teenage Girl

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“I just had sex. Holy shit!” is the first words we hear in The Diary of a Teenage Girl, an amazingly frank movie about teen sexuality that, though a very good film, made even a perv like me feel uncomfortable.

Written and directed by Marielle Heller and based on a graphic novel, The Diary of a Teenage Girl is another film about younger women and older men, but this time from the female perspective. It is set in 1976, in San Francisco (as if the bell bottoms and platform shoes don’t give it away) but even though that was a very lax era, there is still an abiding creepiness about the whole thing.

Bel Powley is our teen, Minnie, who is fifteen and lives with her mother and sister. She is not exactly a beauty, bearing the facial characteristics of a troll doll (that sounds harsh, but she’s kind of cute) and is an artist, idolizing Aline Kaminsky. Her mother’s boyfriend, Alexander Skarsgard, a kind of dopey but handsome guy with a quintessential porn mustache who mostly sleeps on the couch, falls into a sexual relationship with Powley, completely with her consent. Based on the sex scenes, their sex is hotter than a Penthouse Forum letter.

Powley feels like she is an adult, and begins to get clingy with Skarsgard, even saying to him, “We have to talk about our relationship.” Meanwhile, she’s become fairly promiscuous, taking the virginity of a cute boy, sucking cocks in a bar bathroom with her friend, and experimenting with a girl. “The making of a harlot,” she announces on the voiceover.

Of course her mother, played boozily by Kristen Wiig, eventually finds out, and Powley’s world comes crashing down. Since it’s 1976, Wiig suggests Skarsgard marry Powley, but that goes nowhere. By the end of the film there’s that palpable sense that lessons have been learned and forgiveness is at hand.

This film is very sexual, and anyone with a teenage daughter should not see it, lest they break out in hives. There is a lot of nudity (Powley is well over 18, so there’s no laws being broken), such as a scene I imagine most girls go through–looking at their naked body in a mirror. But for the rest of us, this is a strong film, full of great performances and a kind of “fuck-it” demeanor. This is probably the most graphic and honest film about teenage sexuality ever made in America. You used to have to go see French films for this.

It’s not perfect–scenes with Christopher Meloni as Wiig’s ex fall flat. I liked that the soundtrack had period music but not the obvious choices–I was a fully sentient being in 1976 and I didn’t recognize any of the songs but they felt right.

I should add that Skarsgard somehow ended up with this role instead of Peter Sarsgaard, who usually plays creepy older men screwing younger women. But their last names are almost exactly alike, so perhaps the producers called Skarsgard when they meant to call Sarsgaard.

About Jackrabbit Slim

Location: Vegas, Baby! I’m much older than the other whippersnappers here, a baby boomer. I tend to be more snobbish about film, disdaining a lot of the multiplex fare for “cinema.” My favorite films: Woody Allen’s oeuvre (up until about 1990), The Godfather, The Graduate, A Hard Day’s Night, Pulp Fiction. Politics: Well, George McGovern was my political hero. I’m also a prickly atheist. Occupation: Poised to be an English teacher in Las Vegas. For many years I was an editor at Penthouse Magazine. My role on this blog seems to be writing lots of reviews and being the resident Oscar maven.

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