Lust or Love: one girl’s journey to discover herself

Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

The Diary of a Teenage Girl is a film adaptation of a novel by Phoebe Gloekner, written and directed by Marielle Heller. The film was released in select theaters.

The Diary of a Teenage Girl  follows 15-year-old Minnie Goetze (Bel Powley) as she navigates love, relationships and self-worth — a journey that becomes complicated as she develops a sexual relationship with her mother’s 30 year old boyfriend, Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård, Battleship). Heller depicts Minnie’s sexual awakening and self-discovery in a way that is unique to her story while simultaneously evoking the same feelings of the shared experience of sexual maturity in the viewer.

The portrayal of a sexual relationship between a teenager and an adult acts as the uncomfortable, and at times disturbing, driving force for Minnie’s story. Minnie and Monroe’s affair begins with a grope on the couch and advances quickly from there. The audience experiences the evolution of the relationship and other aspects of Minnie’s growth through her witty and honest recorded diary, which narrates the film.

Is Monroe a predator, or is he a man-child? The audience remains unsure, much like Minnie is throughout the movie, and the answer lies within the experiences the viewer shares with Minnie.

The film is given an R-rating which is apt due to the nature of the film. As with the sexual content, the director portrays Minnie and her mother’s partying without judgment and leaves evaluation to the viewer. Minnie’s transgressions — casual sex, drug use, homosexual experimentation — occur in a haze of coerced choices and a stunted idea of autonomy. These events carefully add to her growing wisdom of what it means to be an independent woman.

Although the film focuses on very heavy themes and subject matter, the film maintains the innocence and whimsy of a young adult and budding artist. Playful drawings of hearts, funny and crude doodles of genitalia, and interludes of Minnie’s comic strips decorate the plot.

Throughout the story, Minnie idolizes the feminist cartoonist Aline Kominsky-Crumb. An illustrated Crumb briefly makes an appearance in the film at a critical juncture, advising Minnie as a sister and guide in the convoluted experience of womanhood.

Set in San Francisco, CA during the 1970s, The Diary of a Teenage Girl places the audience in sepia-tinted nostalgia during the “Free Love” movement and a mere decade after the birth of the feminist movement. Minnie’s mother, Charlotte (Kristen Wiig, How to Train Your Dragon), is a single mother living a fast life filled with drugs and alcohol, but genuinely loves her daughters and tries — sometimes haphazardly — to impart feminist ideals to the girls. As Charlotte navigates the uncharted waters of new liberation, the audience watches Minnie develop into an empowered feminist.

A story of what first appears to be the abuse of a young teenager develops into an authentic, candid representation of self-discovery told through the eyes of a young woman. The male characters of The Diary of a Teenage Girl serve as supporting roles whose actions may influence Minnie’s thoughts and feelings but ultimately take a backseat as she accepts ownership of her own pursuit of lust, love and purpose.

Our Take: 3/5 stars