Starring: Bel Powley, Alexander Skarsgard, Kristen Wiig
Directed by: Marielle Heller (debut)
Written by: Marielle Heller (debut)
In 1970’s San Francisco 15-year-old Minnie Goetze (Bel Powley) finds herself going through a sexual awakening. Documenting her experiences on a tape player, Minnie finds herself in an affair with her mother’s 35-year-old boyfriend Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard). Through her experiences, Minnie sets on a mission to find out who she is as a person and as a women in “The Diary of a Teenage Girl.”
The subdued performance of lead actress Powley is almost to a fault, creating some shaky acting bits and shoddy narration that never truly works. Part of “The Diary of a Teenage Girl” takes place through animations, largely from the mind of its main character, an aspiring cartoonist. Generally speaking, live-action blended with animation is a bit of a hit or miss proposition and it doesn’t work very well here. Rather than being an enhancing look and providing depth and insight to the character, the animations feel ill fitting and distracting. The entire plotline of being a cartoonist, in fact, spawns from a single throwaway scene that’s sole purpose is to give the character an eccentric hobby and a new plot device.
If director Marielle Heller wanted audiences to be uncomfortable or feel like the central relationship in the film was wrong on a level, it isn’t something that is conveyed with any strength. In fact, many of the sex scenes, if not all of them, are shot in ways that are meant to titillate. Does she want this to be a normal sexual awakening with little consequence? It is likely that this sort of cognitive dissonance was purposeful, but it’s difficult to shake the moral gray area that “Teenage Girl” spends most of its time in, especially given the age of its protagonist.
Moral ambiguity aside, “The Diary of a Teenage Girl” is the type of independent film that feels like it is trying far too hard to be quirky and different. Its nonchalant attitude and subdued tone make for a slow driving narrative that lacks any real substance. As a coming-of-age film, it certainly doesn’t resonate with any real meaning or hit the ever-important nostalgia area. At times, there are underlying themes of not only female empowerment, but also the lessons learned by a teen trying to grow up too fast. While the latter hits successfully a few times, the former has its legs taken out too many times and makes for an experience that is frequently grating and wholly unsatisfying.