“I. Had. Sex. Today. Holy shit!”: The Diary of a Teenage Girl

diary of a teenage girl

The Diary of a Teenage Girl
Directed by Marielle Heller
Opens August 7

When his girlfriend Charlotte (Kristen Wiig) confronts him about oogling her daughter Minnie’s (Bel Powley) breasts, Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård) successfully defuses the situation by casting aspersions on the origins of the accusation (her stodgy ex-husband), then stroking Charlotte’s face and cooing: “You’re an independent woman. You don’t take shit from anybody.” This simple act of misdirection—so flawlessly executed by a barely-repentant scumbag who’s not just leering at but actually fucking his girlfriend’s daughter—gets to the heart of The Diary of a Teenage Girl’s point about the sexual revolution. Yet Marielle Heller’s film, so wonderfully adapted from Phoebe Gloeckner’s graphic novel, encompasses something far more ambitious and rare: a portrait of unbridled female desire, romantic, sexual, and that horrible, mixed-up area in-between.

Filtered through Minnie’s audio diary (intended, like most diaries are, for some well-adjusted, future version of herself), her running commentary of life in 1970s San Francisco alternates between self-satisfied conquest (“I. Had. Sex. Today. Holy shit!”), ruminations on the indignities of being a teenager (school, parents), wondering how to get more of Monroe’s affection, and wondering what’s wrong with her (too ugly/fat/small-breasted/sex-crazed) when things don’t go the way she wants them to. This cocktail of brashness and cringing self-doubt is, perhaps, not unsurprising to anyone who’s been young. What makes the film so brilliant and revolutionary are not the sometimes awful situations Minnie gets herself into (such as blowing a guy for cash in a bar bathroom after attending The Rocky Horror Picture Show) but her attempts to figure things out, her desire to stay in control, and her whole-hearted enjoyment of sex. For all the boys/men she encounters, the last is the least acceptable, and Minnie is repeatedly told that her passion is “scary.” (Her drawings, which are as erotic and raw as their creator, are also deemed outré by Monroe; at one point, he tells her not to show them to anybody.) Minnie moves between victim and victor of the patriarchy, torn between the things that a woman should want and use to garner affection versus how the world actually works. In the end, without assistance from an inspiring teacher, parent, or therapist, Minnie realizes something R.W. Fassbinder once said: “Love is the best, most insidious, most effective instrument of social repression.”

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