The Diary of a Teenage Girl – Film Review

20150811For the first time ever, I ended up watching a movie in an empty theatre. It wasn’t a surprise: I went to an early session in the morning after the AFL Grand Final, in a cinema whose main demographic probably wouldn’t find the movie all that enticing. To be honest I don’t think I liked my solitary viewing; as much as I seethe against the inconsiderate talkers and rustlers at the movies, cinema is a shared experience and even a single other person in the audience makes a difference as far as the atmosphere goes. As it was, it just felt rather weird and off.

The movie however was very good. I’m glad I’ve read reviews of it because the title initially made it sound like some stupid Hollywood teen thing, but it’s so completely not. It’s a coming-of-age story set in 1970s San Francisco, somewhere in between hippy and punk, chronicling the life of Minnie, a 15-year-old girl who lives with her unstable alcoholic mother and a younger sister. Minnie is wide-eyed and hungry for experiences, and she kicks off her sexual odyssey by fooling around with her mother’s boyfriend. She’s also a budding artist and the movie is often interrupted by the segments where Minnie’s art and characters come to life onscreen and even interact with Minnie herself.

This kind of younger woman/older man scenario is nothing new, but what really stands out about this movie is the lead performance by Bel Powley, a British newcomer. Alexander Skarsgård and Kristen Wiig (as the boyfriend and the mother) are both strong in their supporting roles, but really this is a kind of film that sinks or swims on the strength of the lead, and Powley is just phenomenal here, engaging and natural. I also liked that the movie doesn’t preach or moralise; its adults, while often selfish and stupid, are not irredeemably so, though it probably helps that the movie is set in the looser times. While with Minnie you can see both sides: the movie portrays her as a young woman who’s boldly taking charge of her sexuality and likes it a great deal, while at the same time saying that sex on its own will not make you grow up or fill a hole in your life. It was nice to see a portrayal of a teenage life that doesn’t feel in any way airbrushed or phony. Oh and while I generally had an inkling of where the story would go, at one point there was a reaction from one of the characters which just made me go, whoa didn’t see that coming.

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