In the world of films, female sexuality is a taboo subject of sorts. Teenage female sexuality? Oh don’t even start. Only in recent years have realistic portrayals of young women been put on screen.
The Diary Of A Teenage Girl dives into relatively untouched territory. In an industry where young women are almost always portrayed as ‘prudish’ or a ‘slut’, it is a true feat to create a character who doesn’t fall into a Hollywood stereotype. Very rarely do we see a film in which a young woman takes control of her sexuality, and Minnie does just that, and then some.
Chances are you’ve heard about the controversy surrounding the film’s subject matter, specifically the relationship between Minnie (British newcomer Bel Powley) and her mother’s 35-year-old boyfriend Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård). On paper this seems like a completely reasonable reason to write the film off, but it isn’t quite so black and white. What could easily fall into the age-old story of an older man taking advantage of a young girl, it is instead Minnie who instigates the relationship and holds just as much of the power.
The Diary Of A Teenage Girl is not a love story. It is not just another coming-of-age film. It is a very raw and realistic look into what it is to be a young woman going through teenagehood; coming to terms with your sexuality and complicated adolescent feelings, but mostly it is about the journey that comes with learning to love yourself. 15-year-old Minnie begins the film as a desperate teenager; desperate for love and attention. Very quickly she finds herself in a sexual relationship with her mother’s much older boyfriend, mistaking their encounters for something romantic. Despite putting herself into some very adult situations, Minnie is still a child. Her insecurities are put front and centre as the entire story is told through her eyes, voice-over and cleverly incorporated cartoon animations. Unlike most young female film characters, Minnie’s thoughts aren’t censored, no matter how sexual, uncomfortable or self-deprecating they are.
Set in 1970’s San Francisco, when sex and drugs were not quite so frowned upon, certain situations seem almost too extreme to fit in with today’s youth. Only, versions of the same story have happened many times since and continue to. The underlying theme of self-acceptance spurns all generations. The packaging might be of a different time, but the content remains relevant.
While the strong R rating* seems appropriate, given its number of sex scenes, graphic language and drug use, it is about time that somebody put the harsh and sometimes scary reality of adolescence onto a screen. It is not a story for the fainthearted, but it is a story that is being experienced by many young women all over the world. Unlike a lot of other coming-of-age films, the shocking subject matter is not watered down in any way, with the characters not meant to be particularly ‘likeable’ and no apologies made for their ill-advised behaviour. Minnie’s journey isn’t about learning from her mistakes, it’s about realising that your mistakes don’t mean the end of the world. The Diary Of A Teenage Girl isn’t necesarily a new story, but it is told in a new way. Everything that happens to Minnie is hers to own. While at times ridiculed for her sexual nature, whether be by her step-father or a boy who deemed her “too passionate”, everything Minnie does is her own choice and when those choices don’t go so well, she accepts them and moves on.
Such a powerful and confident look at teenage sexuality is a bold move for first time director Marielle Heller, but the small indie flick manages to stand its ground among big blockbusters. With impressive performances from Powley, Skarsgard and Kristin Wiig, who plays Minnie’s drug-fond absentee mother, it feels almost like you’re watching real people, in all their glory and shame. The restricted rating means that Minnie’s peers might not be able to see the film until it has finished its cinema run, but this very honest portrayal of women is a possible game-changer in the world of cinema and the way we address the sexuality of young women.
The Diary Of A Teenage Girl is currently out in cinemas worldwide
*Rating in UK & Ireland. MPPA ratings differ from country to country.