David Strat­ton

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews -

The Di­ary of a Teenage Girl is an adap­ta­tion of a can­did au­to­bi­og­ra­phy by Phoebe Gloeck­ner about grow­ing up with her flighty mother in San Fran­cisco in the mid-1970s. It is the first fea­ture film di­rected by ac­tor Marielle Heller, and one of the most bru­tally hon­est de­pic­tions of the con­flict­ing emo­tions and hor­monedriven es­capades of a trou­bled teen ever brought to the screen. Its suc­cess is, in no small part, due to the cap­ti­vat­ing per­for­mance of Bri­tish ac­tress Bel Pow­ley in the role of Min­nie Goetz, whose jour­ney from child to adult is pre­sented with­out judg­ment or las­civ­i­ous­ness.

In the open­ing scene 15-year-old Min­nie re­veals breath­lessly: “I had sex to­day! Holy shit!” We soon dis­cover that the man to whom she sur­ren­dered her vir­gin­ity — most will­ingly — was Monroe (Alexan­der Skars­gard), the latest lover of her mother, Char­lotte (Kris­ten Wiig).

The fact that Min­nie is un­der­age, and that Monroe is more than twice her age, im­me­di­ately raises dif­fi­cult ques­tions of child ex­ploita­tion, if not abuse — but some­how the film skirts such con­cerns partly be­cause Min­nie is so de­lighted to be loved and so happy to have found some­one who thinks she’s at­trac­tive (she has a poor opin­ion of her looks and her body), and partly be­cause Monroe is so child­like him­self. Some may claim that the film con­dones this kind of be­hav­iour, but Heller and her ac­tors de­pict the re­la­tion­ship as strangely in­no­cent and pos­i­tive, the easy­go­ing Monroe given lit­tle chance to refuse in the face of Min­nie’s sin­gle­minded de­ter­mi­na­tion to be loved.

And we have to re­mem­ber the time and the place when this very per­sonal story was tak­ing place: only a decade ear­lier San Fran­cisco had been the birthplace of the hip­pie move­ment, the home of the “sum­mer of love”.

The di­ary of the ti­tle is a tape record­ing that Min­nie, alone in her bed­room, regularly up­dates while posters of pop stars of the pe­riod gaze down on her. In the next room, Char­lotte and Monroe con­tinue their re­la­tion­ship, and that doesn’t seem to bother Min­nie too much — hav­ing dis­cov­ered sex, and the power it gives her, she seems strangely re­laxed about her re­la­tion­ship with Monroe and, while he’s oth­er­wise oc­cu­pied, she se­duces a boy her own age. Of course, she does her best to keep the af­fair se­cret from her mother, who is fre­quently off the planet (the film’s cred­its list a mem­ber of the crew re­spon­si­ble for rolling joints).

As time goes by, Min­nie’s ex­per­i­ments with sex take off in more rad­i­cal di­rec­tions: a three­some in­volv­ing her best friend (Madeleine Wa­ters) and a les­bian re­la­tion­ship with Ta­batha (Mar­garita Le­vieva), a drug ad­dict. Yet through it all, Min­nie’s wide-eyed in­no­cence and Pow­ley’s beau­ti­ful, frank per­for­mance en­cour­age us to be­lieve that all will turn out well for Min­nie, that the youth­ful ex­per­i­ments that some adults would con­sider shock­ing will stand her in good stead for a sta­ble fu­ture.

Gloeck­ner’s book con­sisted of both text and draw­ings, and Heller’s film — like the Aus­tralian Look Both Ways by Sarah Watt — oc­ca­sion­ally an­i­mates her draw­ings and dreams in at­trac­tive and un­ex­pected ways. Di­ary is worlds away from the kind of crude, cheap com­edy that’s so fash­ion­able at the mo­ment; it’s sex­u­ally can­did and fre­quently amus­ing, but it also has con­sid­er­able depth and sub­stance and is steeped in the re­al­ity of its char­ac­ters. For a first fea­ture, it’s quite an achieve­ment. Dur­ing a six-week pe­riod be­tween Oc­to­ber and De­cem­ber 2006, six sex work­ers in the English city of Ip­swich were stran­gled in the Lon­don Road area. The mur­ders, not sur­pris­ingly, at­tracted huge media cov­er­age and when lo­cal res­i­dent Steve Wright, a fork­lift driver, was found guilty of the crimes and sen­tenced to life im­pris­on­ment he was dubbed the “Suf­folk Stran­gler”. From this un­likely ma­te­rial Alecky Blythe and Adam Cork fash­ioned a highly un­usual stage mu­si­cal that, un­der the di­rec­tion of Ru­fus Nor­ris, had a suc­cess­ful run at Lon­don’s Na­tional Theatre. Nor­ris has now brought the stage show to the screen as his sec­ond fea­ture, Lon­don Road (af­ter his edgy Bro­ken in 2012, a dev­as­tat­ing ex­am­i­na­tion of Lon­don sub­ur­ban life).

The di­a­logue, which is based on ac­tual in­ter­views with wit­nesses, res­i­dents and oth­ers, in- The Di­ary of a Teenage Girl (MA15+) Lim­ited na­tional re­lease from Thurs­day Lon­don Road (MA15+) Lim­ited na­tional re­lease from Thurs­day Bel Pow­ley and Alexan­der Skars­gard, top, and Skars­gard with Kris­ten Wiig, above right, in The Di­ary of a Teenage Girl; Paul Thorn­ley and Olivia Col­man, cen­tre, in Lon­don Road, be­low

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