Based on the autobiographic graphic novel by Phoebe Gloeckner, The Diary of a Teenage Girl is a brutally honest movie that shows that a film based on a comic can honor its source, but take itself seriously. The film may be the best movie based on a comic… ever.
Like most teenage girls, Minnie Goetze (Bel Powley) is longing for love, acceptance and a sense of purpose in the world. Minnie begins a complex love affair with her mother’s (Kristen Wiig) boyfriend, “the handsomest man in the world,” Monroe Rutherford (Alexander Skarsgård). What follows is a sharp, funny and provocative account of one girl’s sexual and artistic awakening, without judgment.
Going into the film I was aware of the topic at hand, but I was somehow still unprepared for the raw and honest portrayal I was about the witness. Running at 101 minutes, the film feels a little long at times, but that’s partially because I couldn’t figure out where it was going, how it was going to end. Unlike so many movies based on comics, there’s not some climactic showdown to signal the end. There’s showdowns, but in this case it’s of the emotional kind. When the 101 minutes were up, I felt like I had been punched in the gut… and immediately wanted to see the film again. Set in 1976 San Francisco, The Diary of a Teenage Girl is an amazing crossroads of the end of free love, feminism, punk rock and all contrasted with the trial of Patty Hearst. This is really a film you can dissect and talk about for hours on end.
At the center of it all is 15-year-old Minnie played by Bel Powley who is a star in the making. Whomever found her deserves a raise, as the film is completely on her shoulders. Her out there performance bares it all (literally) as she balances between being a child and her impending adulthood. She’s a fascinating mix of child/woman/id/manipulative/and feminist, all rolled into one. Hers is a coming of age story that is as poignant as it is unsettling.
Skarsgård and Wiig are amazing in their roles on Monroe and Charlotte. Both can easily be justified for best supporting actors and Wiig especially is more than just a comedic actress.
Writer/Director Marielle Heller has also done the impossible. While we should be scolding Monroe for taking advantage of young Minnie, Heller has somehow crafted a story where everything and everyone is in a bit of a gray area. Who’s to blame? Is it Minnie? Is it Monroe? Is it Minnie’s mother Charlotte? While the law is clear, everything else isn’t.
While I haven’t read the graphic novel it’s based on, I can’t say how closely the film lines up with the source material, but the film itself is beautifully adapted. The use of animation, as well as weaving in art at times reminds you of what it’s based off of. The film reminds me of American Splendor (also based on a comic) in many ways, except instead of a grouchy man it stars a very liberated woman.
Expect some nominations when award season comes around. The Diary of a Teenage Girl is my favorite film based on a comic, and also my favorite film of the year so far. You may think you’re prepared for the subject and film before you see it, you’re absolutely not prepared for how brutally honest and shocking it is. The film is fearless in so many ways, a coming of age story that’s unsettling and beautiful at the same time.
Overall Rating: 10