|'At times it feels as though Marielle Heller gets so caught up in the coolness of the story- the 1970s, San Francisco-isation of the coming of age tale - that the worldly applicable lessons and experiences it seeks to convey get lost.'|
People who are more positive on The Diary Of A Teenage Girl than I (and I do like it, just not to a 'best of 2015' degree) claim that its major strength is its honest depiction of femininity at the apex of girlhood and womanhood. The protagonist, Minnie (Bel Powley) is seen growing up in San Francisco, coping with the various changes and influences that will come to shape her experience; mainly boys, drugs, friends, family and, latterly, exposure to ideologies that have the potential to impact all of that and more.
The main problem with how well all of that comes together, and therefore arguably how honest a depiction of femininity The Diary Of A Teenage Girl is, can be found in the marriage between director Marielle Heller's telling of that story (which could be universal) and the very specific circumstances of this particular story.
Minnie, at times at odds with how this is presented within the film, seems to live a fairly comfortable, perhaps even glamorous, lifestyle. Growing up in 1970s San Francisco, Minnie lives in a cool central-ish San Fran house, occupied by a hippy-cool mother (Kristen Wiig), who is in the process of embracing the 'flower power' party culture and all that it brings. During the course of her story, Minnie parties in several chic (and not so chic) San Francisco dives and spends time in the LA-bungalow-esque, concrete-and-glass, abode of Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård).
Ratifying that story, Minnie's story, with the wide and varied experiences of young girls in any other given time and place can be a difficult ask. The point of fictions is of course often to give us something more outlandish than the everyday and use it to tell an everyday tale, and Minnie's story in The Diary Of A Teenage Girl does do that successfully. But the point of Heller's film is more than that. This is meant to be an exploration (and explanation perhaps too) of what entering womanhood means, told not from a male perspective, but from a purely female one (the film is based on Phoebe Gloeckner's graphic novel). At times it feels as though Heller gets so caught up in the coolness of the story- the 1970s, San Francisco-isation of the coming of age tale - that the worldly applicable lessons and experiences it seeks to convey get lost. Minnie at one point takes acid in Monroe's chic hillside house. How many contemporary viewers will be able to parlay that directly into their experiences?
That said, there are other sections of the film which feel as though their applicability is spot on and handled very well. After her first sexual encounters with Monroe, Minnie begins to experiment, sometimes in the company of friend Kimmie (Madeleine Waters). The experiments aren't always successful, but Heller is careful to cast them only as that. There's no blame here, no finger wagging or tutting in the girls' direction; success and failure, the need to find sexual tastes and preferences, are what they are. In The Diary Of A Teenage Girl, unlike other films which attempt to explore the same, they aren't criminalised or criticised, overtly sexualised or ranked in a preferential order; they merely make up Minnie's coming of age.
The finale of the film too - which feels badly paced; we arrive in a rush to conclude - successfully depicts Minnie finding an alternative mantra to some of the criticism she has received during the film. Though that criticism is never from the film itself, Heller successfully shows us that Minnie (and by extension, any audience member who wants to see it) can find an alternative to the prevailing male viewpoints which have shaped her ideology to that point and the ideologies of the world which is there to criticise her. Our protagonist too also finds agency within the world of the film. The characters she has always interacted with begin to see her tell her story (and are frequently surprised by it). We, meanwhile, have seen the story from her viewpoint throughout, thanks to Heller's mixed, but satisfying direction.