×

Film Review: ‘The Diary of a Teenage Girl’

A fine adaptation of Phoebe Gloeckner's autobiographical novel about a sexually precocious 1970s adolescence.

With:
Bel Powley, Alexander Skarsgard, Kristen Wiig, Christopher Meloni, Abigail Wait, Miranda Bailey, Carson Mell, John Parsons, Madeleine Waters, Austin Lyon, Quinn Nagle, Davy Clements, Anthony Williams, Margarita Levieva.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3172532/

Translating tricky source material to the screen with flying colors, actress Marielle Heller’s feature directing debut, “The Diary of a Teenage Girl,” manages to plunge into the too-precocious sex life of a 15-year-old girl without turning exploitative or distasteful. This adaptation of Phoebe Gloeckner’s heavily autobiographical novel is ideally cast and skillfully handled, making for a salable item likely to stir some attention-getting controversy and win favorable reviews in territories where the subject matter (which is depicted not graphically, but with a fair amount of nudity) doesn’t create daunting censorship problems.

“I’ve just had sex! Holy s—!” Minnie Goetz (Bel Powley) exults to us (or rather to her cassette-tape audio diary) for starters, before rewinding to chronicle the loss of her virginity to Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard), the two-decades-older boyfriend of her mom, Charlotte (Kristen Wiig). Minnie was somewhat the instigator, though Monroe scarcely voiced an objection. If this blase attitude seems rather appalling from the outside, it makes a sort of sense in the context of Chez Goetz. Minnie and her younger sister, Gretel (Abigail Wait), get more standard parental input long distance from their stepdad, Pascal (Christopher Meloni), whom their mother divorced, than they do from Mom or her myriad boyfriends, of which Monroe is just the “main one.” (Their biological father or fathers are long gone and rarely mentioned.)

Thus, Minnie seems even more confused than most teenagers about separating sex and love, craving the elusive latter while enthusiastically chasing the former — not just in Monroe’s bed, but also with rich-kid fellow student Ricky (Austin Lyon). Meanwhile, she apes her mother’s undiscriminating partying habits with best friend Kimmie (Madeleine Waters), is casually pursued by skateboarding classmate Chuck (Quinn Nagle), and grows attracted to the wild-side allure of streetwise young lesbian Tabatha (Margarita Levieva).

Juggling all these (ahem) balls while keeping the ongoing Monroe affair secret is a disaster just waiting to happen, its ticking time bomb amplified by recreational drug use, that tell-all diary and Minnie’s impulsive nature. Her aggressive adventurousness doesn’t mean she doesn’t have plenty of the usual adolescent insecurities; nor does it prevent her from feeling “weird and creepy” each time she goes a little too far.

Heller’s script does a fine job condensing Gloeckner’s book without losing anything significant. She successfully translates its semi-graphic-novel balance (it’s about two-thirds prose, one-third panels and illustration) by having Sara Gunnarsdottir animate the frequent flowerings of Minnie’s imagination in a ’70s underground Bakshi/Crumb/psychedelic style, which often erupts amid the otherwise live-action imagery.

Most impressively, however, Heller maintains the book’s seriocomic ambivalence — which makes sense when reading the bright yet very immature first-person meanderings of a 15-year-old mind circa 1976 on the page, but might easily have curdled into sensationalism or grotesquerie onscreen. Minnie probably doesn’t know what the word “pederasty” is, and doesn’t think of herself as a victim. But at the same time, she’s very badly served by her lack of responsible adult role models — Mom, Monroe and their friends seem to be living improvisational lives that any children must just fit into as best they can.

Faithful to the book’s vision (if more physically attractive), Skarsgaard makes Monroe so easygoing and likable you sometimes forget that his passivity is actually a contemptible willingness to let his libido make decisions by default — for which he then blames “manipulative” Minnie. Given less screentime, Wiig nonetheless ultimately makes an equally strong impression as another not-quite-grownup with parenting skills to match.

Supporting roles are all nicely filled, but the pic is definitely carried by Powley, a bigscreen newcomer with some U.K. tube and stage credits (but no discernible Brit accent here). She invests Minnie with a strength of character, despite all hapless actions, that lends the pic necessary weight when it takes a slightly more conventional late turn toward the inevitable bottom-hitting crisis and upbeat bounce-back.

Design/tech contributions on the location-shot feature are fine, providing a credible Me Decade vibe without overselling the period’s kitschier aspects.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'The Diary of a Teenage Girl'

Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 24, 2015. Running time: 102 MIN.

Production: A Caviar/Cold Iron Pictures presentation of an Archer Gray production. Produced by Anne Carey, Bert Hamelinck, Madeline Samit, Miranda Bailey. Executive producers, Michael Sagol, Amanda Marshall, Jorma Taccone, Amy Nauiokas. Co-producer, Debbie Brubaker.

Crew: Directed by Marielle Heller. Screenplay, Heller, based on the novel by Phoebe Gloeckner. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Brandon Trost; editors, Marie-Helene Dozo, Koen Timmerman; music, Nate Heller; music supervisor, Howard Paar; production designer, Jonah Markowitz; art director, Emily K. Rolph; set decorator, Susan Alegria; costume designer, Carmen Grande; sound, Bob Gitzen; sound designer/re-recording mixer, Kent Sparling; animation, Sara Gunnarsdottir; assistant director, Brian Benson; casting, Nina Henninger.

With: Bel Powley, Alexander Skarsgard, Kristen Wiig, Christopher Meloni, Abigail Wait, Miranda Bailey, Carson Mell, John Parsons, Madeleine Waters, Austin Lyon, Quinn Nagle, Davy Clements, Anthony Williams, Margarita Levieva.

More Film

  • Our Mothers Review

    Oscars: Belgium Sends Cannes Prizewinner 'Our Mothers' to International Feature Film Race

    Belgian-Guatemalan director Cesar Diaz’s feature debut, “Our Mothers,” will represent Belgium in the International Feature Film category at the Oscars. Represented in international markets by Pyramide, “Our Mothers” world premiered at Cannes’ Critics Week and won the Golden Camera for best first film. “Our Mothers” is set in today’s Guatemala, a country riveted by the [...]

  • La vaca "The Cow"

    Alfredo Castro, Mia Maestro, Leonor Varela Cast in Francisca Alegria’s Debut (EXCLUSIVE)

    SANTIAGO, Chile  —  The much anticipated feature debut of Chilean Francisca Alegria, renowned for her magical short “And the Whole Sky Fit in the Dead Cow’s Eye,” has firmed up its cast and shooting dates. Argentine thesp Mia Maestro (“The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn”), Chile’s Leonor Varela (“Dallas,” “Blade 2”), Alfredo Castro (“From Afar,” “Museum”) [...]

  • 210819 Distribusjonsseminar DNF

    Haugesund: Nordic Distribution Panel Analyzes Recent Success Story 'Queen of Hearts'

    HAUGESUND, Norway  —  On Wednesday morning, shortly before this year’s New Nordic Films Works in Progress screening was due to begin, a handful of industry veterans sat for a panel that picked up right where last year’s WIP program left off. Presented in collaboration with Europa Distribution, the panel – called “The Value Chain: A [...]

  • L-R Dena Kaplan, Ronny Chieng, Josh

    Rafe Spall Leads Cast of Oscar Nominated Josh Lawson's 'Long Story Short'

    Rafe Spall, whose credits include “The Big Short” and “Shaun of the Dead,” leads the cast of romantic comedy “Long Story Short.” Studiocanal will handle worldwide sales on the film, which starts to shoot on Monday in Sydney, Australia. The movie is written and directed by Josh Lawson, who was Oscar nominated last year for [...]

  • Metro 2033

    Cult Sci-Fi Novel 'Metro 2033' to Be Adapted as Movie (EXCLUSIVE)

    Russia’s TNT-Premier Studios Company, TV-3 Channel and Central Partnership Film Company – all part of Gazprom Media – have come together to produce a movie based on Dmitry Glukhovsky’s sci-fi novel “Metro 2033,” which has also been adapted as a video game. Filming is due to start next year. The Russian premiere of the movie [...]

  • Beforeigners

    'Beforeigners'' Anne Bjornstad on HBO's First Norwegian Original Series

    HAUGESUND, Norway  —  HBO Europe’s first Norwegian original series, which debuted Aug. 21 exclusively across HBO’s territories, has garnered rave reviews in the Norwegian press. It is also a perfect fit for HBO’s brand and goal to create bold, smart and author-driven shows. Produced by Endemol Shine’s Norwegian prodco Rubicon TV, “Beforeigners” is helmed by [...]

  • Refugees from the besieged Muslim enclave

    Sarajevo’s True Stories Market: Documenting the Atrocities of War

    Reconciliation and dealing with the tragedies of the Yugoslav Wars has been a major focus of the Sarajevo Film Festival and its CineLink Industry Days event in recent years. The True Stories Market, launched in 2016, aims to connect filmmakers with organizations that are researching and documenting the Yugoslav Wars that spanned 1991 to 2001 [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content