“I had sex today”. Usually you would expect those words to be uttered by a high school jock in yet another slew of raunchy teen sex comedies like Road Trip, Sex Drive and the godfather of them all, American Pie. But in Dairy of a Teenage Girl, those words come out rather surprisingly from the lips of a young girl…Shock horror! You would be forgiven for believing that women don’t worry, think or desire sex, as if sex was a male construction designed for men’s pleasure and women’s inconvenience. Well, contrary to cinematic belief, women fantasise and desire sex as much as any man does and in some cases even more so. Female sexuality in cinema is so rarely explored that it verges on the nonexistence or if it does exist, it is condemned in most horror films and punished by an early death or its exploited for male gratification. I wouldn’t say Diary of a Teenage Girl is feminist or overtly political, however what I would say is; its wonderfully refreshing, imaginative and most importantly unapologetically honest. Director Marielle Heller presents one of cinemas first true representation of female sexuality; awkward, embarrassing and wonderfully exciting.
Diary of a Teenage Girl is based on Phoebe Gloeckner’s novel of the same name; the book offers a loose and hilarious semi-autobiographical account of the authors own experience growing up as a cis teenage girl. The novel itself has a captivating amalgamation of illustration and prose, helping to create a charming and visceral view into the character of Minnie, a quality which is also delightfully ingrained in Marielle Heller’s film adaptation. At the end of flower power and the cusp of war, Meet Minnie (Bel Powley) in 1970s San Francisco; she isn’t blessed with supermodel good looks or a Michelle Obama level of intelligence, but why should she have to be so exceptional?
Minnie is just a normal girl and that’s okay. However, being normal doesn’t necessarily make her any less special; she earnestly recites her thoughts, dreams and fantasies onto a tape recorder, she idealises the work of underground carton artist Aline Kominsky and Minnie has a bohemian wild child for a mother (Kirsten Wiig). We are soon invited into Minnie life, through the very same quote I started my review with, “I had sex today”. However, this isn’t uttered confidently as you would expect, but more stated with surprise and relief because Minnie like most insecure teens doesn’t consider herself attractive enough to be lustred after. Yet finally it happens with her mother’s boyfriend Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård) and she can’t stop thinking about it.
It started with a finger sucking in a dark, neon lit dive bar in town and quickly descended into a full on affair and journey of sexual awakening for Minnie. Sex is like a drug, once you done it for the first time, you generally want to do a lot more afterwards. When Monroe isn’t there to satisfy her cravings she looks towards the popular guy in school, but he is unable to compete with her sexual enthusiasm and she must return again and again back to Monroe. Eventually it isn’t just about the sex anymore and it soon delves below the physical and into something deeper and more consuming. However, with Minnie being just 15 and Monroe being the boyfriend of her mother the relationship threatens to move precariously towards the edges of cloud nine, with a painful freefall mere inches away.
Older man with a 15-year-old girl could end up seemingly rather predatory and distasteful, yet Marielle handles the sexual relationship between Monroe and Minnie with care, truth and respect. Minnie’s sexuality isn’t seen as an exploitation in the love making scene, instead it is seen as something she is completely complicit in and serves as a valuable part of her journey of self-exploration and womanhood.
Despite her only other notable work being CBBC’s M.I high, Bel Powerly constructs a rich, in-depth character that can make you cringe at her portentous statements in one scene, “It feels like there are little weights hanging from my heart that swing and tug every time I move, every time the wind blows”. While you rejoice at her defiance in another, “I refuse to be some snivelling cry-baby, this is my life”. And even though she shares the screen often with infinitely more famous Kirsten Wiig, she never once allows herself to melt seamlessly into the background of each scene, which is also a testament to Wiig for remaining understated and accompanying to Bel.
“This is for all the girls when they are grown”. If I could be PM tomorrow, I would make Diary of a Teenage Girl a compulsory watch for all young people and even some adults. The film teachers us that female sexuality is no less as important and raw as men’s and a woman thinking about and desiring sex doesn’t make her abnormal or worse a ‘slut’, it makes her a healthy, normal human being. Sure we have Girls and Blue is the Warmest Colour, but the conversation shouldn’t end there, the dialogue about female sexuality should constantly be left open because each women sexuality is unique and complex and no ONE film or TV series can honestly say they have covered it all!