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Diary of a Teenage Girl - Film Review

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Published September 18th 2015
Before E L James, there was Phoebe Gloeckner
Up-and-coming British starlet Bel Powley puts in a convincing performance as the protagonist of The Diary of a Teenage Girl, a coming-of-age dramedy set in 1970s San Francisco.

The film is based on Phoebe Gloeckner's graphic novel of the same name, that was released amid much controversy in the 1970s. Back then, it would have caused a stir not unlike that generated by E L James' Fifty Shades of Grey in 2012. In fact, Gloeckner's first book A Child's Life and Other Stories was classified as pornography and banned from public libraries in Stockton, CA. Minnie Goetze (Powley), the central character from Diary of a Teenage Girl had featured in some of Gloeckner's other comics. Minnie is a geeky 15-year-old schoolgirl exploring her own sexuality. An aspiring artist who thinks school is "pointless", Minnie keeps an audio diary where she records her deepest thoughts, in an age where blogs and Youtube were still unknown.

Minnie lives with her hedonistic mother Charlotte (Saturday Night Live alumnus Kristen Wiig) who suggests to her boyfriend Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard, True Blood) that he take Minnie out because she herself is too busy to spend time with him. As a result, Minnie and Monroe begin an affair, despite their age difference and the legal implications.

Theatrical release poster

References to 1970s counterculture run strongly throughout the movie. Underground comics artist Aline Kominsky is mentioned as an inspiration for Minnie to produce more drawings, which she later sells at the end of the film. Charlotte is portrayed as a bohemian personality unable to take personal responsibility. Minnie herself experiments with cannabis and LSD, the latter being a popular party drug at that time.

In a way, Diary of a Teenage Girl can be said to be semi-autobiographical. Gloeckner's mother was a librarian, like Charlotte from the movie. Like Minnie, Gloeckner began drawing cartoons at a young age. She was also acquainted with Kominsky and other prominent artists from that period. In fact, one Kominsky comic, Twisted Sisters features in the movie. Despite the strong sexual overtones that look set to rival Sam Taylor-Johnson's adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey, the degree of humour it possesses gives it a somewhat light-hearted feel.

Although the plot does get a little drawn-out at times, Powley's acting brings out the best in her character Minnie. It would seem that this talented young lass is destined for something big in time to come. This film also marks the debut of Madeleine Waters as Minnie's best mate Kimmie. To top it all, Gloeckner's daughter Persephone has a cameo appearance too.

Diary of a Teenage Girl is best described as something of Juno meets Fifty Shades of Grey.

Rating: 7.5/10

Director and Screenwriter: Marielle Heller (Carrie from Spin City)

Based on: The Diary of a Teenage Girl by Phoebe Gloeckner

Production team: Miranda Bailey, Debbie Brubaker, Anne Carey, Corentin De Saedeleer, Shani Geva, Bert Hamelinck, Amanda Marshall, Amy Nauiokas, Michael Sagol, Madeline Samit, Jorma Taccone (Saturday Night Live)

Main cast: Bel Powley, Kristen Wiig, Alexander Skarsgard, Madeleine Waters, Persephone Gloeckner-Suits.
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