A Review of 'Diary of a Teenage Girl'
Let me be clear—I really wanted to like this movie. That’s not the most ethical and unbiased journalistic statement I could make, but it’s the truth. Let me also be clear that there is a significant part of me that did really like this movie, for what it’s worth. Nevertheless, I left the theater without my head spinning in the whirlwind of teenage nostalgia I was expecting. Instead, I felt like I had experienced something that wasn’t quite right. Although, on the surface, The Diary of a Teenage Girl seemed to tick all of my boxes for being something great:
It’s a coming-of-age story that chronicles 15-year-old Minnie Goetze as she begins to navigate a path of sexual discovery (fantastic—we need more women talking about sex in the media. More specifically, we need more teenage girls talking about sex to balance out the large number of teenage boys in film and TV that are talking about sex).
Minnie is an an aspiring cartoonist who has a personal and therapeutic relationship with her art throughout the film, and there are plenty of moments when her drawings are animated and interact with the cast (visually interesting elements? Amazing).
There’s an undeniable quirkiness to the film, what with its spunky 1970s wardrobe, its dreamy alt rock soundtrack, and its crass but honest sense of humor (and hey, I love quirk as much as the next artsy collegiate airhead).
Most importantly, it features a young female who is dedicated to taking responsibility for her own sex life—having the kind of sex that benefits her when she wants it. Except that a majority of this sex involves her mother’s boyfriend, Monroe, who is twenty years her senior (…oh).
Not only that, but it’s after Minnie’s first sexual encounters that she begins to enter a world of drug use (alongside her mother, no less). She flunks out of high school, she poses as a prostitute with her best friend Kimmie at a bar, she runs away from home, and she has a brief relationship with a lesbian who attempts to sell her body for drugs.
I tried to justify it, especially after listening to producer Anne Carey explain after the movie that all of the sex scenes involve Minnie taking control (which is true) and that the camera is always focused on capturing Minnie’s reaction (which is also true). Minnie does end up relatively okay in the end—she’s selling artwork and zines on the beach and says goodbye to Monroe for good in one of the final frames. I finished the film feeling as though good things were in store for her, and yet…
Why did Minnie’s life have to take a major downturn after she became sexually active? Why was the one LGBTQ characterization in the film particularly demonizing? Why did Minnie’s mother refuse to have a discussion with her about what happened between her daughter and Monroe, closing this painful chapter in both of their lives by insisting that they never talk about it again. Moreover, why was this portrayed as a suitable and healthy way to mend their relationship and tie up loose ends?
Perhaps a huge part of the movie was centered on the concept of maturity and what it means to be an adult. After all, Minnie acted much more responsibly than many of “grown-ups” included in the story, considering she suffered from a lack of positive role models. That being said, the tone was often too light and airy when showcasing these dark imbalances of power and sinister situations. There are some things that quirky can’t cover.
I will always support films that aim to accurately portray the chaotic and confusing emotions of teenage girls. I will always support films about sexual empowerment. However, it’s indescribably important to realize that we can create films that discuss all of these things without featuring statutory rape as a major plot point.
Photo originally featured on comingsoon.net